Dave Carter
& Tracy Grammer,
When I Go
(self-produced, 1998;
Signature Sounds, 2002)

"And should you glimpse my wand'rin form out on the borderline
between death and resurrection and the council of the pines
do not worry for my comfort, do not sorrow for me so
all your diamond tears will rise up and adorn the sky beside me when I go."

- "When I Go," Dave Carter

"When I Go," the opening song and title track to Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer's first CD, previously limited in its availability and now re-released on a larger label, is a haunting piece about death that brings in myriad lyrical and musical metaphors from the American west of the Native Americans combined with the Celtic mythology brought to that region of the world. Featuring Carter's banjo and vocals, accompanied by Grammer's violin and backing vocals, it is a sparsely arranged number that hits home even harder since Carter's premature death from a heart attack on 19 July 2002. Although it was written for his mother, it now takes on even more poignancy.

This independently released album that was recorded mostly in Grammer's kitchen on a tight budget in 1998 was, as Grammer states in the CD booklet, "the album that launched our career in the folk music world." It places them clearly in the bluegrass-tinged element of folk music, but it's not truly bluegrass music. It's more a relaxed acoustic folk style that defies a niche within the acoustic music universe. There are shades of Bob Dylan in his most authentic folk mood in "Don't Tread on Me" as Carter packs dense lyrics in a song that, like most of his compositions, is more of a story. "Lancelot" is the old American west's version of Arthurian literature, complete with a gentle yodel; and dead set in the middle of the CD is a song of lost love and magic, "Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love," a counterpoint duet sung only to a gentle acoustic guitar in the background.

Carter's songwriting produces an eerily realistic dreamlike world that is only a bend or two in the road from our own. Populated by deceased rock music stars ("Elvis Presley"), the defeated ("Frank to Valentino") and "new age wonders" ("The River, Where She Sleeps"), it is accentuated by only a handful of acoustic instruments that still manage to create and change moods in a matter of measures. Grammer's frantic violin in "Little Liza Jane" builds the tension; Carter's guitar relaxes the mood a bit, then both instruments succeed in creating the final crescendo.

"Postmodern mythic American folk music" is quite a mouthful, but it's the term that Carter and Grammer have used to describe their sound. It sounds a bit new age and perhaps even rather pretentious, but it pretty accurate. The misfortune now is that there is such a limited supply of it available. Carter and Grammer were due to return to the recording studio in December 2002; perhaps some tapes hidden away, yet to be released, will be uncovered. Dave Carter's passing has taken some poetry away from the world. Where I Go is a remarkable representation of Carter and Grammer's early work.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]
Rambles: 27 July 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.