This is the first full-length album by Tracy Grammer since the sudden passing of her "partner in all things" Dave Carter. The tracks, with one exception are Dave's unrecorded songs. If you have not heard the music of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer you have a lot of catching up to do. Their three albums are celebrations of Carter's deeply rooted songwriting and joyful musical collaboration with Grammer. Their personal relationship did not show up in the song lyrics, but in the unmistakable wholeness of their sound. Although Carter's creative fire burned impossibly bright, Grammer always seemed an equal partner in the duo.
It is impossible for me to render an objective review of this album because the music of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer has become an important part of me. I was lucky enough to interview Dave and Tracy by phone few times and meet them a few times more. I watched them play live with tears of joy in my eyes and felt like the luckiest man on earth when I held their new albums in my hands. It was special just to see the way Dave and Tracy looked at each other. Understanding how meager a thread such acquaintance is, I still felt like I lost a close friend, brother and an irreplaceable piece of my own happiness when I heard that Dave died. Tracy's comforting words for Dave's fans and her resolve to continue is the logical and emotional result of the music they made together, proving the inexpressible truth of love.
Beyond hope I wanted another Dave and Tracy album, more than I ever wanted Simon and Garfunkel or the Beatles back together in their prime. I also wanted Tracy's new album to be similar in sound and content to their previous albums. In my contrary way I ignored the fact that each of their albums has been a departure from the one before.
Flower of Avalon does not have musical interplay of the duo, no matter how much I craved the impossible. When I finally opened up to what is possible, I found a big place in my heart waiting to hear this beautiful album.
Mary Chapin Carpenter's long-time producer, John Jennings co-produced this album with Grammer. It takes a bit of getting used to, hearing Tracy's voice and fiddle in Chapin Carpenter's aural landscape, but she has the prowess and presence to hold the center on even the densest tracks, such as the mysterious opener Shadows of Evangeline. As with many of Dave Carter's songs, this one is first enjoyed for its individual images ("It's waiting for a sun that punishes but seldom shines...She is young, like her mother before her/ put-up tired at the end of her labors.") before the elusive elements form a clearer picture.
I had to check the writing credits of Gypsy Rose to see if Tracy had written this song to express her continuing love for Dave. ("My love was buried in the spring/ I see his face in blossoming things/ One night I thought I heard him sing/ Down in the hollow.") Like so many of Dave Carters songs, this is a comforting embrace from beyond. How can one feel sad when you listen to Tracy's loving, griefless voice singing this song. One gets a similar feeling from Winter When He Goes, with its quiet piano and bowed bass.
Laughlin Boy, is a jaunty civil war song with an anti-war message. This is a traditional tune with lyrics by William Jolliff. Mary Chapin Carpenter supplies the harmony vocals. Hey Ho is the Dave Carter version of the protest song, taking on the war toy industry from the sweatshop where they are made to backyard toy funerals with color guards.
Mother I Climbed gets a slower and more contemplative treatment than I remember from their live shows. Mary Chapin Carpenter's harmony vocal seems to be identically pitched to where Carter's would have been. "Preston Miller" is a Carter-clever alliterative original that borrows its gleefully doomed demeanor from scores of traditional wicked father double crosses the bastard son ballads.
Phantom Doll is a jazzy departure from the other songs, but the lyrics are very "Dave." There are antique phrases in a narrative that clears when you inspect it closely...until the end where I can't yet figure out what happened!
The album ends all too soon with Any Way I Do, a song of faith with Christian imagery and a Gospel chorus.
As with Carter and Grammer's other fine albums, this one grows on you every time you play it. You soon find yourself fully focused with the lyrics in hand, discovering nuances in the performances. It's no small thing—Tracy Grammer has brought us another Dave and Tracy album. The love still goes both ways. Dave's music and spirit reaches through Tracy to us and Tracy's heart, fingers and voice reach to Dave, enclosing us in the gentle arms of music.
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