AS PUBLISHED IN KNIX MAGAZINE, FEBRUARY 1999

 

 

By Nick Krewen

 

 

There is no artist more disarming in country music than DEANA CARTER.

In person, she radiates a genuine warmth and likeability that puts you at ease even before she extends her hand in greeting.

There are other factors, too: the soft, Southern belle lilt of her voice. Her wholesome girl-next-door beauty. An absence of pretense fortified by an aura of friendliness. An inexplicable charisma that is just as powerful in an informal social gathering as when she's on stage singing in front of a live audience or entertaining before the cameras.

What's so deliciously deceptive about Deana Carter is her inner strength, masked by her velvet veneer of femininity. In conversation, she surprises you with her candor, and discloses a wit that's regulated by humor and tempered with a deep understanding of life.

Just look at the titles of her two Capitol Nashville albums. Even before country fans heard it and four million people bought it, Did I Shave My Legs For This? was an imaginative album title that aroused curiosity with its off-handed irreverence. With equal amounts of humor and chutzpah, it seemed to be Carter's way of announcing that she'd only follow Nashville rules to a point.

She's fulfilled that intention with Everything's Gonna Be Alright . In face of its title's tone of reassurance, Carter's sophomore effort flaunts its artistic licence in a manner that ventures far beyond country.

The gold album kicks off with the Z.Z. TOP-chugging-"Tush"-inspired "You Still Shake Me," delivers a flashy funk remake of MELANIE's '60s roller-skate classic "Brand New Key," the pop-lite delivery of "Michelangelo Sky," the Delta blues flush of "Never Comin' Down," the choral shuffle of "Angels Working Overtime," and bathes in the Southern rock exhilaration of "The Train Song."

There's certainly a healthy amount of country in various blends and spices spread throughout the rest of the album's 13 numbers, proven by the enormous hit ballad "Absence Of The Heart" and the equally wistful "People Miss Planes."

But the best indication of Deana Carter's grand design can be summarized in the inscription in the CD booklet for Everything's Gonna Be Alright, a quote from her grandmother Tillie: "In life you either make dust or eat dust. The choice is yours."

Deana Carter clearly has no desire to eat anyone's dust.

"I'm still really in love with this album," Carter said recently, "There's not one song that's alike or similar to anything else on the radio -- which can be a bad thing, I guess.

"We hope that's a good thing," she laughs.

And if she has a bit of a struggle, so what. This isn't the first time Carter has faced resistance. Long before she sipped her first success with the MATRACA BERG-GARY HARRISON hit "Strawberry Wine," Deana Carter felt no small amount of intimidation growing up in the Nashville household of her father FRED CARTER JR., an ace session guitarist who accompanied all the heavies in the '60s and '70s, from SIMON & GARFUNKEL, JAMES TAYLOR and GORDON LIGHTFOOT to BOB DYLAN, MARTY ROBBINS and RAY PRICE.

"I remember standing in my den, looking up at a guy tuning his guitar and going, 'Man, that's a weird name. Gordon Lightfoot. Is that your real name?' Carter chuckles.

"Or I'm sitting in my living room and RANDY TRAVIS -- who was RANDY RAY at the time -- is warming up to sing these demos, and you'd think, `Damn, he can sing.' You're aware that you're hearing stuff that people will never hear."

On one hand, it spurred her desire to make music her livelihood. On the other, music sparked a lot of ambivalent feelings within Deana Carter.

"There was a lot of pressure," she admits. "Music was something that I always loved. My parents forced me to take piano lessons when I was young, which I hated, but I always looked at music early on as a love-hate relationship. It took my Dad away from us. It never allowed us to have vacations and official holidays. We didn't live a "normal" life, so for those reasons it was very -- I don't want to say negative -- but it was something that I thought, you know what, I don't know if I could do this.

"There was also the mystery of achieving, because he was at such a level that few people ever get to -- and God forbid that I attempt to do it and not reach at least that level. So there was all this kind of fear stuff going on inside me."

Carter succumbed to her love of music, and made the record company rounds as a singer at the age of 17. Doors slammed relentlessly.

"The first thing people expected of me was that I'd be a virtuoso on the guitar. It was tough breaking the molds that other people set for you."

Disheartened, she chose an alternate career. Disgusted by her grandmother's poor living conditions at a nursing home, Carter enrolled at the University Of Tennessee for a Bachelor of Science Degree as a rehabilitation therapist for stroke and head injury victims.

"I decided to just cover my bases personally and try to achieve some other goals before I set out to pursue a musical career, in case it failed and I had something to fall back on. I don't think I believed in myself very much, you know?"

Six years later, she graduated and worked at the Tennessee Christian Medical Centre. Carter lasted only a year.

"I had a patient die, and I couldn't take that," explains the Nashville-born Carter, 33. "I also got into the nooks and crannies of how hospitals and insurance companies are in bed together, and the patient is the least concern. I got pissed off about it."

But her college years offered life lessons she now applied directly to her career. Ironically, two of them included learning guitar and songwriting.

"I didn't play until I was in college," Carter admits. "My Dad gave me a Yamaha guitar that was one-of-a-kind that was made for him, as my college `congratulations' present.

"And that's when I started writing. I can not explain it to you, but I picked up the guitar and wrote this song, `I'm Hugging The Pillow Again.' And I had never played a note. All I had was the piano sheet music that kind of showed me where the dots are on the guitar neck. I mustered up a C and an E and a G, I think, and wrote this song -- a verse and a chorus and a verse and a chorus, and I thought, Wow!"

Another was honesty.

"When you have to sit as a therapist and explain an illness that their loved one has that they might never get over, that is incredibly difficult," says Carter. "You're having to break some pretty tough news to people that they don't want to hear, and that is hard. That's something that changed my life. But it makes you deal with the facts. Your Mom may never be able to walk again, or have her facilities, or use her right arm, and she may not know you . That is hard, hard stuff, man. It stuck with me. No matter what, it's not going to do any good for me to smooth it over.

"I think that's why I hate it when people try to make things work a little better than they really are, or when they don't explain the whole scenario to me. That's when I lose it! People trying to save their own ass by not being honest just makes it ten times worse."

That sense of family and honesty defines Everything's Gonna Be Alright. It's a song Deana remembers from her childhood that was written by her father.

"I was probably in kindergarten or younger, and it's such a positive message for our family for a lot of different reasons. It's always been this little silent anthem that we've all loved, all of us. It helped my aunt get through about 15 years of breast cancer, and she eventually passed away, but it was such a little beacon for us. And I thought that it really says a lot for everybody. Everything's going to be all right, people. It's fine. Do the best you can do, for yourself and for other people, and that's what this album represents."

Carter is also planning to put some time in as wife to musician husband CHRIS DiCROCE.

"I feel like Chris has also put in so much support time," says Carter. " He's been the crutches long enough. It's been three solid years on the road away from him, and my home and my family, I feel like it's no big deal man if it's just a couple of months to come and lend a hand to your partner for them to be able to focus on some personal and business things. I need to be a wife for a couple of months. I'm looking forward to being a buddy to my husband."

The couple are moving into a new home, and Carter also wants to begin writing for the next album.

"We're moving into a house that we've been redoing, which has been hell. It looks like nothing to close to what we need to be living in right now, as far as there's rubble everywhere still. In the Spring we're going to be moving into that, and I'm going to come off the road for the first half of the year and just write some more. It's like this new album has sparked so much creativity that I feel I need to pull back and keep writing. Then I'll set up a tour for hopefully the summer on out."

There have been other struggles, most notably the ever-swirling vortex of record company politics that saw a five-year delay, and three-quarter overhaul of Did I Shave My Legs For This? and a few month delay for Everything's Gonna Be Alright while Capitol Nashville shuffled presidents.

She's been broke. She's starved. She's waitressed and scrubbed toilets while she's perfected her muse. And Deana Carter remains philosophically upbeat about her trials and tribulations.

"I was really hard-headed about wanting to earn it, and not wanting it handed to me," she admits. "I rejected a lot of help that I should have accepted, and that's why it took me so long. But I don't think I'd feel as confident about things if I had taken another path. If I hadn't lived all these songs, experienced starvation, and being broke -- all the stuff that I had been through, then I couldn't be the artist that I was meant to be. It was just the path I had to take to get to this place.

"I try to be an example as a human being that honesty is okay, and feelings are good. We don't have to grow up masking what we really want to be.

I'm okay with exposing my emotions, because that's what keeps it real.

"Nobody can drag you down unless you let them. You should kind of catapult yourself off of every experience in an upward motion, as hard as it is to do."

 

DISCOGRAPHY

1995 -- Did I Shave My Legs For This? -- Capitol

1998 -- Everything's Gonna Be All Right

 

COLLABORATIONS

1998 -- Various Artists, Touched By An Angel -- The Album -- Columbia

1998 -- Various Artists, Hope Floats

 

CONTRIBUTIONS

1999 -- Paul Brandt, That's The Truth

 

#1 HITS

1996 -- "Strawberry Wine" (2 weeks)

1996 -- "We Danced Anyway" (2 weeks)

1997 -- "How Do I Get There"

 

AWARDS

1997 -- Single Of The Year, Country Music Association - "Strawberry Wine"

1997 -- Song Of The Year, Country Music Association -- "Strawberry Wine"

 

THANKS SANDY LOVEJOY

-30-

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