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Deana Carter
The Story of My Life


like rooting for Deana Carter. Her debut, 1996’s “Strawberry Wine,” deserved to win the Country Music Association award for Single of the Year; it does everything right, evoking a specific time more than anything, doing so in a very sultry-not-oversexed way. It’s a song for steamy summer nights. Since that auspicious beginning (and its attendant album, the four-million-selling Did I Shave My Legs For This?), Carter’s had nothing but trouble: a DWI arrest, a broken marriage, and ever-declining record sales. After three albums on two major labels, however, she’s broken loose and signed with indie Vanguard for her new, self-produced declaration of independence, The Story of My Life.

Carter’s image has always been that of a sassy, independent, follow-your-muse kinda gal. That’s a blessing and a curse; nearly a decade ago, it helped her stand out from the country-girl pack, but on Story it’s fairly shoved down your throat on song after song. Not only did Carter produce this entire album, she wrote or co-wrote every song here, and plays guitar all over the disc—and it sounds like it. By which I mean that the album has an unfortunate tendency to drag, as one mid-tempo acoustic guitar-based song follows another, all with Carter merrily cooing along. Which has often served her well, especially when she’s been selling a mood. But on an album where the lyrics are so often paramount, it doesn’t work quite as well as it did in the past.

Carter’s not a great songwriter. Her lyrics are better than her music, though. Both the bathetic “In A Heartbeat” and “Not Another Love Song” feature oozing soft-rock keyboard arrangements which bring to mind the sound of the early-‘70s fluff merchants Bread. Then there’s the acoustic-plus-voice setting of “Katie” which reeks of, of all things, Edie Brickell. Edie Brickell solo. [Check the way Carter sings the “Katie has a way of seein’ things” line in the chorus and tell me you’re not reminded of Mrs. Simon.] This isn’t to say that her lyrics are all exemplary, either, as some of “Katie”’s couplets wouldn’t get much more than a C in a high-school creative writing class, and “Ordinary”—of course—is exactly that. “One Day At A Time,” meanwhile, has fairly ordinary lyrics but jaunts along nicely with a winning arrangement and subtle Hammond B-3 touches, and makes for a fine first single.

Hopefully, “Sunny Day” will find its way to radio (or at least CMT, which has never given up on Carter), too. While a bit too Shawn Colvin in its lyrics, this one builds in a lovely way and features some great guitar work, stretching out just so. It’d fit in perfectly on CMT’s kinda-alt-country show Wide Open Country, or for that matter on Triple-A radio, and is the highlight of the album. “Sunny Day” is followed by the equally fine “Getting Over You,” which features an almost bluesy riff with some of the best lyrics here, that clearly benefits from its trio of writers. This isn’t so much country as it is southern, in the same sense that Nelly and Tim [McGraw]’s “Over and Over” is. It’s more soulful than trad C&W;, but sounds fresh up against most mainstream country. Which means, of course, that radio will ignore it. While Carter’s not a great songwriter, she is capable of writing great songs. To wit, the album’s closing title track: “The Story of My Life” is a beautiful make-the-best-of-what-you’ve-got ballad that works thanks largely to its delicate touch (and some of Carter’s most focused lyrics).

With some better collaborators—or at least, sounding boards—Carter’s an artist clearly capable of making a great album. The Story of My Life isn’t it, but it’s a start. [Though someone needs to ward her off of acoustic-based songs, which don’t fit her voice at all.] In the meantime, I’ll just keep on rooting for her.

Reviewed by: Thomas Inskeep

Reviewed on: 2005-04-12

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