Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer
Dave Carter was an amazing songwriter. And WC doesn’t say that just because the Nashville music machine disdained his songs. In love with language and complex images, he wrote folk music for grown ups. His metaphors grabbed you and didn’t let go. And Tracy Grammer’s harmonies, leads and fiddling were a perfect complement to Dave Carter’s tenor.
Dave Carter died in July 2002, in the arms of his partner, Tracy Grammer. “Yesterday, shortly after he went unconscious, he came back for a lucid minute or two to tell me, ‘I just died… Baby, I just died…’,” Grammer wrote. The world is much poorer for his death. A great talent like Dave Carter doesn’t come along very often, and it’s very sad to lose him so soon.
Tanglewood Tree (Amazon link) is an excellent introduction to Dave and Tracy’s music. The album, perhaps more than any of their others, shows Dave and Tracy at their best. “Tanglewood” showcases Dave’s superb and wide-ranging lyrics and music, the wonderful playing and the wonderful harmonies Dave and Tracy brought to Dave’s songs.
From the opening track (“Happytown/It’s All Right with Me”) through the upbeat “Hey Conductor! (Does This Train Go to Texas)” there isn’t a bad song on the album. But the best songs are probably “The Mountain” and the title track.
“The Mountain” has been covered by Joan Baez and others and reflects a bit of Dave Carter’s eastern philosophy. Lovely lyrics (“I was born in a fork-tongued story”) and a haunting melody, with beautiful harmony singing.
A review can’t do justic to the title track, but one line goes (the parens show the chords)
(Am)Love is a (D)tanglewood (Am)tree
In a (D)bower of (Am)green
In a (G)forest at (Am)dawn (G)(Em)
(Am)Fair while the (D)mockingbird (Am)sings
But she (D)soon lifts her (Am)wings
And the (G)music is (Am)gone
Sung by Dave Carter in his rich tenor, matched by Grammer’s perfect harmony and superb violin, the song is astonishing in its impact. The last stanza has Dave and Tracy singing, in counterpoint, two variations on the lyrics, giving two different meanings to the lines. It’s simply brilliant. When WC first heard it, live, it raised the hair on the back of WC’s neck. It still can give WC chills. You should buy this album for the title track alone.
But the album also has the amazing “Crocodile Man,” sung, or more correctly, recited by Tracy.
Inside the house is a hall of mirrors
inside the mirror is the temple of sin
inside the temple is the face of mama
and mama she know just where I been
yeah mama knows exactly where her bad … boy … been
WC has seen Tracy twice since Dave Carter died. She sings his songs with an intensity that seems to reflect her determination to keep Dave’s music alive. Catch her live if you can. Some of her joy and delight seems to have returned to her between the first concert in 2003 and her show in 2009. WC thinks that’s how Dave would have wanted it, Tracy. Keep up the good work.
This album is one of the very best folk albums of the last ten years. Dave Carter reportedly said, “All you needed for a song is two chords and the truth.” Everything about his music and this album in particular tells a listener otherwise. WC’s very highest recommendation.