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Deana Carter: The Story of Her Life Continues to Write Itself
By j. poet

Deana Carter's new album, The Story of My Life, lives up to its title with 11 largely autobiographical tunes full of the spunk and subtle humor we've come to expect from her. It's her first album for Vanguard Records, an indie known for its strong roster of singer-songwriters. And while the self-produced set has pleasing crossover sheen, it's still a Country album.

There's an old fashion cheatin' song and aggressive love songs including "The Girl You Left Me For" and "Ordinary" that celebrate what the old timers used to call the wild side of life.

"I've always been a fan of the real stuff," Carter said, with characteristic optimism.  "Unfortunately, you have to live that stuff to be able to write about it. I was having some difficulties in my life last year and luckily it was time to write a record, so that was a good thing. It's the story of a little heartache overshadowed by a fierce determination to be happy."

Carter said The Story of My Life was one of the most satisfying projects she's ever done. It's her first album since leaving Nashville for Los Angeles.

"When I was a kid I loved the variety shows - Sonny and Cher, the Mandrell sisters. I wanted to be on TV and have my own show and do little skits, sing and dance, have all the show biz stuff going hand in hand. That's why I came out here to L.A. I want to do it all."

Carter's first step toward her goal of being an all around entertainer was signing with Vanguard. The record label gave her total artistic control.

"Their faith in me was amazing," Carter said. "They didn't hear a single note until it was finished. They let me have complete control; they had no idea what was going to come out. They said I could write my songs, produce them myself and make the record I wanted to make.

"There's a songwriter and label community in Nashville and once a writer gets a hit, they want to keep capitalizing on that success, which is fine if you're dealing with an artist that doesn't write her own songs. At this point in my life, I didn't want to conform to a formula. There are a lot of musical influences in my life. I loved '70s rock and folk rock, from Bob Seger, to Steely Dan, to Bread. My dad [famed session guitarist Fred Carter Jr.] was involved with Simon and Garfunkel, The Band, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and people like that. We weren't just steeped in Country Music. I've always leaned toward self-contained artists, peppered by Country artists like Willie, Dolly and Kris Kristofferson. I've had two major deals; this is more of a 'joint venture' that allows me to be myself and in charge of my own music."

Carter said the new album "brings me full circle."

"When Jimmy Bowen brought me to Capitol, he believed in me as an artist. He wanted me to produce my records and sing my own songs. He let me produce most of Shave My Legs, but let me know from the start I wouldn't get credit for it. He said if I got a hit I wouldn't deserve the credit and if it bombed I shouldn't take the rap."

Carter produced her new album with the help of engineer, guitarist and co-writer James Michael. "The basic tracks were done on the computer, then we brought in my road band to play live on the tracks. My brother Jeff played lead guitar, I played a few measly little leads here and there and the horn and string parts."

Having total control allowed Carter to follow her own musical instincts. "I love having long outros at the end of a tune, just letting the musicians jam, giving the music room to breath. On 'Not Another Love Song' there's a transition at the end where the musicians get to open up another chapter, just when you thought the book was over."

She also experimented a bit.

"When I write a song I have the skeleton in my head but I have to get into the studio to put the muscles and skin on it and make it a boy or a girl. On 'Sunny Day,' which is about all the self-doubt you can feel in your life, I wanted the music to be a little dark. The lyric says 'God's gonna blow your clouds away and give me a sunny day,' but I wanted the music to give the opposite impression of the words. To get that, we layered on a lot of guitars to give it a little Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon feel."

"And the middle part of 'The Story of My Life' was a struggle. I know what the beginning was and we all know what the end is going to be, but the middle is hard to imagine, so I had to let the music in the middle say what I couldn't say with words. I was surprised at how well it worked. Being a songwriter, you always want to tell people what's going on. It's a rare thing when you can get your point across better without words."

Carter had her first child Gray Hayes Hickey on Sept. 15, two weeks after finishing the album. She said she hadn't had as much fun making an album in years.

"When I finally sat down in the mastering facility to listen to the playback, I cried. Every note was just where I wanted it to be. I could hear my dreams coming back at me from the speakers and I didn't have to have a committee vote on whether to have a wah pedal on a guitar, nobody was there telling me what I had to do. My engineer and co-writer James Michael and me did it all, so it was very emotional."

"Deana had a vision for every song," said James Michael, her engineer and co-writer. "She knew the difficulties, but was never put off by the challenges. What's on this record is exactly what she heard in her head."

As she settles into her new Southern California home, and plans her next career moves, Carter finds herself waxing nostalgic about her hometown.

"One thing I've discovered since I moved out here is that I'm more Southern than Country, and it makes me proud of being Southern. Being away from Nashville allows me to appreciate my hometown more. In L.A. you have Goths and punk rockers and metal heads all thriving and playing their own music and nobody points a finger or criticizes them, so I can embrace being a Southerner. I don't know if I've made a traditional Country album, but it's a Southern album. Southerners have a soul you don't find anywhere else in the world. The spirit of the land permeates the people. They may be slower to do things but they have a lot of faith and live a lot more roots-based, soul-based life. I think that comes across in the music."                    

On the Web: www.deanacarter.net

2005 CMA Close Up News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.

 

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