CD Review: The Carper Family ~ ‘Back When’

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by Jim Blum, for FolkAlley.com

The Carper Family
Back When

Most family bands evolve from actual family members who happen to be musical, eventually moving from the living room to the road. The Carper “Family” is a bit of a misnomer, though there is a connection. The band is comprised of three Austin women who each previously led their own groups. Each of them also grew up with families who played music. So as you might guess, they feel like a family.

Melissa Carper plays doghouse bass, Beth Chrisman is on the fiddle, and Jenn Miori plays guitar. Each can sing lead and their three distinctively different voices offer variety for the listener. In fact, their voices are so different that their fabulous blended trio harmonies catch you off guard. It is hard to tell who is singing what part, but that’s a good sign. Harmony is supposed to sound like matched parts and there voices move together as one. As an added treat, Cindy Cashdollar guests on the album on steel guitar and Brennen Leigh is featured on mandolin.

Now, to describe them. Think cowboy music meets old time country. Think the 1930’s meeting 2012. Think western swing with a southern twang. They’re a little like Rider’s in the Sky, but a lot more like the Boswell Sisters, if the Boswells had come from Texas.

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Toward the end of the Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis in February, late on the last night on the 19th floor – the third floor of endless hotel room shows – I asked someone in the crowded hallway who was not to be missed. I was pointed toward the Carper’s and a found a place to stand.

I heard “My Baby Don’t Like Me” which opens as a trio, then Melissa sings the lead trying to rationalize why she has fallen out of favor with her lover. “I take out the doggies and my hair’s still messy, so what happened?” Jenn was next and singing about the love of old swing music in the “Tennessee Jive.” Then Beth stepped to the center to sing the album’s head-scratcher, “Don’t Treat Me too Nice.” She calmly explains in verse that she can be satisfied, even delighted with less attention and never desired someone to be there EVERY night. After all, that might be a bit much. Then there’s the one about falling in love by buying goats together. Who hasn’t wished that dream to become a song?

You can’t get too much of The Carper Family; their retro style of music may not be unusual, but they certainly are.

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