Hear It First: Melissa Carper, ‘Daddy’s Country Gold’
Singer-songwriter and upright bassist Melissa Carper has gathered some of Nashville’s finest around the mics here to deliver a collection of songs on Daddy’s Country Gold that carry us from luxuriant lounge jazz to Western swing to Gypsy jazz to country ballads. Dennis Crouch of The Time Jumpers, who co-produced the album with Andrija Tokic, takes over bass duties here, allowing Carper to let loose her dreamy, bright, vocal stylings that recall the heart-pulling emotional delivery of Kitty Wells, the languorous phrasing of Billie Holiday, and the bluesy moaning of Janis Joplin. Joining Carper on the album are Chris Scruggs (guitar, steel guitar), Jeff Taylor (piano, organ, accordion), Matty Meyer (drums, percussion), Billy Contreras (fiddle), with guest appearances from Brennen Leigh, Sierra Ferrell, and legendary pedal steel maestro Lloyd Green.
Opening with a steel guitar phrase out of Gene Watson’s “Farewell Party,” the country blues “Old Chevy Van” conveys the signer’s mournful regret at saying goodbye while at the same time feeling “like she’s cheating.” Carper cannily captures the feeling of remorse for not wanting to move on from a place of comfort and knowing—“they don’t make things like they used to”—and the reluctant acceptance of her action. Her vocals resemble Joplin’s bluesy desire on “Mercedes Benz.” As Carper recalls of writing the song, “’My Old Chevy Van’ is an emotional song for me. I inherited my family’s 1991 Chevy Van and had been driving it for six years or so when I moved from Arkansas to Austin, Texas in 2009. I drove it around Texas for a year or two and then felt like it was time to sell it as maintenance was getting expensive and it got terrible gas mileage. I had no idea when I sold this van how sad I would be.”
The album opens with the percussive jazz lounge “Makin’ Memories,” which rides along Crouch’s thumping bass and Jeff Taylor’s swinging piano as Carper cannily croons the ways that making memories cuts both ways: remembering names and faces, but also remembering outlandish events you can’t, but might want to, forget. “I thought it was funny and a good song idea,” says Carper. “I always have a hard time remembering people’s names.Then, of course, there is the whole idea of not remembering what happened when you have had too much to drink, something I may have done a time or two. This is just a fun, lighthearted song that hopefully makes people chuckle.”
The smoky jazz blues “I Almost Forgot About You,” floats along a meandering St. Louis jazz vibe, and Carper’s sensual, warm vocals linger on the memory of a lover whose face is momentarily lost in the crowd of faces of other lovers. The song unfolds cinematically, especially on the final bridge that floats over lush string arrangements. Carper says that, “The idea for ‘I Almost Forgot About You’ came from a weekend in which I had a very good time and had managed to forget about a love interest that I had been obsessing about. When I got back home that phrase came to me, ‘I Almost Forgot About You,’ and I realized I had a song there. I just kind of tied in the various lost loves of my life to come up with the rest.”
Chris Scruggs’ lush steel guitar and Billy Contreras’ fluttering fiddle weave under and around each other as they lay down the musical quilt for the country waltz-across-the-floor tune “Back When,” a yearning look back to a time when desire fueled hope and hope fueled desire. Carper says she started writing this song “a bit after a break up while longing for the relationship I once had with someone, that is–the beginning of the relationship when we were in love and everything was wonderful. It was written with a hopeful desire that things could be as they once were, and though that never happened, I feel like this song does have that hopeful air that maybe ‘back when’ could happen again, for any relationship that has lost that spark.”
The toodling “Old Fashioned Gal” ingeniously blends steel guitar and fiddle to resemble a Pete Fountain-style jazz tootle that slides in and out of a New Orleans rhythm and an Upper East Side NYC speakeasy tempo. “’Old Fashioned Gal’ was inspired by spending some time in the beautiful country of West Virginia,” says Carper. “Before writing it, I had been listening on Sirius radio to a station with old jazz tunes–if I remember correctly–while driving back from a long tour with the Carper Family. Usually, if I listen to a certain style over and over, the next thing I write will have that influence.”
On “You’re Still My Love,” Carper artfully conveys what it would have sounded like if Patsy Cline had sung “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On.” It’s a stunningly gorgeous country weeper. “Would You Like to Get Some Goats?” rides in on a Western swing vibe as Carper croons the title question with a nod-and-a-wink. “When I wrote ‘Would You Like to Get Some Goats’ I had a girlfriend at the time whose dream was to have a goat farm,” recalls Carper. “I had fun with double-entendre and metaphors in this one. And it kind of likens the commitment of getting goats with the commitment of marriage.”
The Gypsy jazz tune “Arkansas Hills” evokes the feeling of traveling down the open road, with jaunty fiddles, guitars, and steel guitar blowing as Carper careens around the hilly terrain with her vocals. Carper wrote the song driving back from a Christmas trip to Wisconsin. “I started writing it around St. Louis and I did not have a smartphone to give me directions. So I started writing it while I was driving down the road, and had it pretty much finished by the time I was pulling into ‘my little log cabin’ in Arkansas–except I didn’t really live in a log cabin, but it sounds good in the song.”
The country weeper “It’s Better if You Never Know” recalls the best of Loretta Lynn, and Carper’s vocals capture Lynn’s poignant balance of regret and yearning and self-determination, while “I’m Musing You” rides along a New Orleans second line rhythm as it dances toward a surprise ending. As with many songs on the album, “I’m Musing You” came about on a road trip when Carper thought to herself, “I need a new muse, I need to stop delving back into these old times. And there was the song.”
“Many Moons Ago” doesn’t have “many lyrics,” Carper points out. But the scampering country jazzer conveys the simple message “that time does heal and growth occurs and you move on even when you feel you are dealing with something you can never get over.”
The album closes with the soaring “Over the Rainbow”-like love song “The Stars Are Aligned,” an exquisitely moving jazz ballad that, Carper says, “just came from the romantic feeling of a new relationship with a soulmate you have been waiting for.”
We don’t have to dig very deep into Melissa Carper’s rich vein of songwriting and sing before we hit gold, for from the opening note on her new album her shimmering and pure vocals and the lush instrumental carpet on which her voice floats glimmer with a vibrant sheen that tells us we’ve struck it rich here. Daddy’s Country Gold showcases Carper’s ability to stretch out a note or a phrase to pull at our hearts, and her artful way of delivering a lyric with the just-right emotional power imbues these songs with a power that stays with us long after the final notes fade.
‘Daddy’s Country Gold is available for pre-order now – HERE.
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