Well, kids… Daddy’s gone and done it again.
If perfection is your poison, you’ll die and go to heaven from Melissa Carper’s latest grin-inducing gift to the current hillbilly zeitgeist, the train trackin’, van packin’, real deal, true steel Ramblin’ Soul.
The follow-up to 2021’s pivotal Daddy’s Country Gold expands on a vintage yet stylish attitude, retaining a wealth of ace players and reuniting Carper with producers Dennis Crouch and Andrija Tokic at the latter’s Bomb Shelter studio in Music City. As sequels go, it’s Godfather: Part II territory replete with crucial performances, new old favorites, and cunning bends in the tale.
Leading with the title cut, Carper and company saunter ahead with feet that fit a railroad track but glide on piano and soft bass before gathering steam with “Zen Buddha”, a drivin’ honky tonker featuring Sierra Ferrell on backing vocals and Chris Scruggs’s don’t-try-try-this-at-home steel. John Pahmer’s organ work is a highlight, a fresh bit of character that draws the ear and elicits the awed, appreciative whistle.
“Ain’t A Day Goes By”, a loving tribute to the “Best Dog Ever” Miss Betty Boo, hits the valley, tugging at nostalgia sweetened with gospel sentiment. The reminiscence continues on “1980 Dodge Van” a Paycheck’d ode to the Carper family’s (both) preferred mode of transportation, a pseudo-prequel to the fidelity musing “My Old Chevy Van” loaded with “all five gears and a country band.”.
For those that might question whether or not another ditty dedicated to the Lonestar State is necessary, I submit the swinging “Texas, Texas, Texas”. The certifiable mover is chock full of sensational steel and really held aloft by Billy Contreras’s exceptional fiddle and support vocals from”King o’ the Hillbilly Bass” Larry Marrs.
It may be as good, but it doesn’t get any better than “That’s My Only Regret”, a wonderful country lament that surrenders to the Cajun-flavored Silverstein-ish ribaldry of “Boxers On Backwards”, a tune I would love to have been in the room for the first time Melissa unveiled the line “Some girls like ya’ stinky, drunk with your drinky…” Fragrant, guitar-driven fun.
Co-written with Gina Gallina, the funky “I Do What I WANNA” swells with big vocals courtesy of Kyshona Armstrong, Nickie Conley, and Maureen Murphy, the trio filling out the sound on a host of Ramblin’ Soul’s tracks, including the airy, acoustic and organ-propelled cover of Odetta’s 1970 groover “Hit or Miss”. When Carper and her ensemble draw out the line, “Ain’t nobody just like this,” it’s difficult to know whether they mean Odetta or Melissa– but you’ll get no arguments from this commentator either way.
More golden-fried country goodness abounds on the rain-brushed “I Don’t Need To Cry”. Rory Hoffman’s nylon strings and piano evoke both Charlie McCoy and Floyd Cramer, while on the jazzy “Holding All The Cards”, the North Dakota multi-instrumentalist binds it all together with shoulder-bop inducing clarinet over drummer Matty Meyer’s breezy, stair-steppin’ backbeat.
“From What I Recall” is a beautifully arranged big band slow Western swinger, full of strings, harmony, and flowing steel. Sepia-toned and smoky, Carper is front and center, as emotional as Hank Williams and as enthralling as Billie Holiday. Few artists transition as well from the side of the stage to the center, but Melissa Carper performs at another level entirely.
The Brennen Leigh-penned closer “Hanging On To You” bounds in with a supreme Motown melody, cruising whisper close to a ’60s pop delicacy and finality that surprises, delights, and ultimately satisfies. It’s the song you didn’t know the album needed as it fades out declaring, “They don’t make ’em like they used to.”
All I can confirm is that I’m thankful they still managed to make one like Melissa Carper.