- - Monday, August 25, 2014


As she will tell you herself, Carlene Carter is a road dog.

And at 58, this fourth-generation member of the storied Carter Family is on the road again, touring behind her latest album, “Carter Girl.” (The tour brings her, along with Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen, to the Birchmere in Alexandria on Thursday.)

Most of the new album, released by Rounder Records, consists of Ms. Carter’s reimagined renditions of Carter Family classics, such as “Gold Watch and Chain,” “Give Me the Roses” and “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow.”

But you’d be wrong to think of “Carter Girl“‘s 12 tracks as a trip down memory lane: Ms. Carter’s recordings, as well as her live performances, infuse these songs with vibrance and urgency as when they were first performed by the pioneers of country music.

Ms. Carter recently talked to The Washington Times about the new album, her family and the road.

Question: You’ve had incredible success. What is it that has kept you recording and touring?

Answer: I’m an entertainer. It is my job. Beyond that, it’s my passion. I want to see the light in people’s eyes because they recognize themselves in my songs. I want people to buy the record and then hear me sing live. So you get to hear [the recording] and then hear me play it live. I love getting out and sharing the music with people in an intimate setting.

Q: A lot of musicians say that the road gets harder and harder over time, but you never seem to show any road weariness. What keeps you going?

A: I grew up on the road and toured a lot in my life. I’m quite the road dog. I’ll be out 250 or 300 days a year working. I’m trying to cover as much ground as I can.

Q: How would you describe your audience?

A: The audiences that come to see me now are my age or are just music lovers. They aren’t coming to check it out, they are coming to have the live experience. I inherited the Carter Family fans, [my stepfather Johnny Cash’s] fans, Carlene Carter fans, Carter-Cash fans. I have the white-hair crowd who are older than me and a lot of people that bring their kids. And there are just some younger fans that are pure music lovers.

Q: How would you describe your shows to someone who didn’t know anything about them?

A: It really depends on the venue I’m playing. There are some listening rooms where I’m playing to 300, 400, 500 people, and we expect to share an evening together. There are larger shows, smaller shows. Basically, I rely on the audiences to guide me. I talk to them, I sing for them and they guide me toward what they would enjoy. I ask them, “Do you want to know what’s behind this song?” And they tell me they do, and we have a conversation.

Q: Some second- or third-generation musicians rebel against their family’s musical heritage. You never have. Why is that?

A: I have always honored my family’s music. I’m very proud of it. Every article or every review of my shows has two to three paragraphs where they mention my family background. That’s fine. I’m very secure in my own abilities and my own music. I like to think I’m constantly growing as a performer. It doesn’t matter if there are 20 or 2,000 people, I try to keep it free and fun by flying by the seat of my pants.

Q: You chose Don Was to produce “Carter Girl.” What did he contribute that no one else would have brought to the project?

A: Don and I talked about how we didn’t want it to sound like I did in my 20s. Basically, he understood what I wanted to do. I heard what he did with my friend Elizabeth Cook [on her 2010 album “Welder”], and it sounds like her, not just like she’s singing these particular songs. That’s what I wanted.

I’ve known Don for a while. We weren’t close or anything, so I was thrilled when I met him and he agreed to work with me. He was everything I wished for and more. Working with Don was such a joyful experience. This album was like our little baby that we worked on together. I really trusted in the universe to make this the best it could be and it worked.

Also, Don brought the right musicians into the studio with me. They had great style, great talent. It is why this all came together.

Q: So many people still think of your mom, June Carter Cash, and truly love her. What can you tell us about her?

A: She was all about “Be yourself and always be true to yourself.” She told me if you can write one “Ring of Fire” in your lifetime, it will benefit your career forever. I told her “Gee, that’s a tall order, mom!”

When I started writing songs and got the hang of it, my aunt Helen [Carter coached] me. I learned to only write things I know right now and to share a piece of my soul. [My mother] loved performing. When she [and my stepfather Johnny Cash] performed, I got to stand on the side of the stage, watch and learn. They were two of the best entertainers in the world. They had incredibly solid work ethics. It didn’t matter what else was going on in their lives, when they heard ‘It’s showtime,’ they put that aside and performed with everything they had.

If You Go

WHAT:Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen and Carlene Carter

WHERE: The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, Va. 703-549-7000

WHEN: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

TICKETS: $29.50

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