I’m Just A Girl
Deana Carter, of the golden hair, bare feet and mega-watt smile, writes people’s souls. With a CMA Award, two Grammy® nominations, sold-out tours and the ability to bring a certain down-home sultriness to whatever environment she lands in, the whispery voiced singer/songwriter returns with I’m Just A Girl – a cohesive project that takes the Tennessee girl’s wide-eyed worldview and tempers it with the wisdom of turning a few of life’s major corners.
“People are individually similar,” she explains in her no-nonsense sweetness, eyes leveled for emphasis. “Uniqueness is a beautiful thing – and everyone is, in their own way. But the bigger thing is that we all have basic human traits that are our common thread, the thing that unifies. Maybe that mole on my face makes me different…or how I respond to something, but we all feel the same thing when we feel hurt, or are in love, or happy.
“To me, it’s writing the personal…but then capturing that feeling in a way that everyone sees themselves. I’d like to say it’s something I really try to do, but when you’re being honest about what you’re feeling, you’re just holding up a mirror to everybody else’s emotions, too.”
Deana Carter has created an album that’s not afraid of the real life extremes. It’s an album that has its beginnings – both artistically and productionwise – in the lithe acoustic guitarist. Whether it’s the pining “You and Tequila,” about a boy who won’t quite stay and a love that won’t quite go, or the raucously empowering “Girls’ Night,” with a quick sketch of what individuality and grown women can be. Perhaps it’s the direct declaration of definition in “I’m Just A Girl” that juxtaposes worldly experience with the simplicity of the core, or the sparkling pledge of whatever it takes to make it work. “There’s No Limit” exposes the faith and the passion that sustains the flash of explosive love.
“I’ve nurtured this album for two-and-a-half years as the sole producer,” Carter explains evenly. “I started this record by myself in my home studio at the end of ’99, beginning of 2000. So, this one starts at my core – and just keeps rumbling. By the time Dann Huff came in to produce five new songs for the album, I knew where we needed to go…and we just kept moving, which was great, because having been raised in the studio, you get that sense of what things should be, what they need to be.
“I always try to let the songs command what happens, because they have their own cadence and melody. They really do! What’s being said is so contributory to the melodic ideas, it becomes like a cake you’re making, and it WILL tell you. The instrumentation evolves – and you know…too much sugar, not enough eggs, whatever it is, you’ll know. Which is why I love production so much.”
Carter, is the daughter of legendary guitarist Fred Carter, known for his work on Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and for providing the signature guitar work on Simon & Garfunkel’s classics, “The Boxer” and “Sounds of Silence.” He was beyond defining most of the classic country of the ’70s and ’80s, so for Deana, knowing what her music should be is genetic. Understanding herself is a little trickier.
Having survived the personal and professional challenges of a divorce and a separation from her former label, Capitol Nashville, the always-effervescent young woman found herself considering the other side of happy. She realized that there are choices and there are reasons – and she decided to search her soul in an attempt to bring her writing to the next level. This introspection is every bit as vital to who Deana Carter is as the winsome catch in her voice.
“There were definitely songs before the divorce and after,” she says with a laugh, “though separating from my label was just as important. There’s something about that divorce demon that’s a monkey on your back. It forces you to question everything, to wonder if you’ve let someone else down. It sure gets your emotions screwing everything up!”
“But it’s amazing how in touch I’ve become with my strength – and the things I’ve realized because of all this. When the blindness is gone, the decisions all weigh heavier because you understand the cost and the pain, but you also realize you have choices. I mean, I used to think happiness was like the lottery: either you had the numbers or you didn’t. But that’s not so…. Everybody can be happy, if you’re willing to work at it every day.”
And then in classic Deana Carter fashion, she flashes a dazzling smile and concludes, “Every single spirit deserves to be happy – and I’m gonna remind them. It’s what keeps me in this and it’s why I want to be able to do the splits when I’m 40…because to not pursue happiness would be to compromise your ethics, your vigor for life, and life is what you deserve.”
Listening to a song like the finger-picked folk of “Wildflower,” with an arrangement lighter than air and a truth about need that’s big enough for us all, it’s obvious her new outlook on life, while steeped in seriousness, is more about letting go of our doubts. And with “Cover of a Magazine,” a cheeky rejoinder about media-dictated perfection, Deana Carter has taken her free-spirited beauty and invested it in a focused will to live a life that will lead you where you want to be.
For the child of the Volunteer State, that path led straight to California. The Golden State’s siren’s song was as much about Carter’s more progressive musical antecedents ranging from Tom Petty to Jackson Browne, the Eagles to Fleetwood Mac, as it was the beach, the golden glow of the sun and the easy-going lifestyle. And it was a move she’d been dying to make since she was a young girl.
“I was on my way to California in ’90 when I got my writing deal with Polygram,” she begins, with a tilted smile at the way things turned out. “Then I put it off because I knew what it would take to work on my writing. But the sun and the heat and the outside and the green of it all – the open-endedness of the creativity out there – it’s where everyone wants to be inspired.
“Heading out there made me feel like my opportunities were limitless. I’d arrived at a place in my life where I felt pinned in a corner and California was anything but that. I’ve got a house in a canyon which I call ‘Italyburg,’ because it reminds me of Italy and Gatlinburg. It’s amazing.”
Certainly the yearning to be somewhere else, anywhere but here permeates “Me and the Radio,” a song about heading to where the memories aren’t louder than the sound of one’s own heart beating, and the radio remains a true and constant companion and inspiration. It’s the same sense of arrival through loss that defines the resolved “Goodbye Train,” which embraces destiny ahead as more important than the husk of what wasn’t being left behind.
Not that Deana Carter has turned into the poster girl for doom and gloom. While there is a dark duet about unresolved desire (“Waiting”) – written and sung with fellow Angeleno Dwight Yoakam of the cutting edge, honky-tonk sound and brooding demeanor – the woman who’s given us desire’s awakening in “Strawberry Wine,” the unapologetic commitment to true love in “Count Me In,” the plucky celebration of seeing silver linings with “We Danced Anyway” and the hard-driving rock of desire of “You Still Shake Me” is stronger, happier and more inspiring than ever.
Listen to “Eddie,” a story song about the kind of guy that makes it all come together – in a very real life way – or the indicting “Liar,” that tosses poison barbs over a percolating beat, and know Deana Carter still gives as good and as fun as she gets. And when she settles down to settle down, she embraces the notion that people are like snowflakes – and ultimately it’s that understanding that soothes the way. “Twice As Worth It” promises that while the very-real, probably-flawed boy in question may not be perfect, he’s “perfect for me” – giving us all hope that at the end of the day, we’re good enough to be happy and strong enough to get through.