Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer – “Postmodern Mythic Americana”   Leave a comment

Dave Carter was the son of a Pentecostal minister and a mathematician, a man who dropped out of a graduate program in math to write music and then studied transpersonal psychology, religion, and whatever else interested him.  Tracy Grammer is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist with a degree in English lit (and probably much more, but she’s more private about background) who was Dave Carter’s “partner in all things” for the last decade or so of his life. The phrase “postmodern mythic American music” was their own description, and I don’t know of a better term from anyone, though mythopoeic would also suit.

In June 1999, I picked up Dave and Tracy’s first CD, When I Go, listened to the title song (Dave: “my shamanic banjo hymn”) and was instantly enthralled.

This was everything I’d been listening for:  haunting melodies that sounded centuries-old, on acoustic instruments, with intensely literate wordplay, mythic stories, great voices, wonderfully interstitial genre-blending…  Besides the title track, the CD contained songs ranging from the talking blues-ish Don’t Tread On Me (Dave:  “This is the product of an imagined meeting, in a hotel room somewhere, of Jack Kerouac, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan”) to the lovely counterpoint duet Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love, to the Arthurian cowboy ballad (!) Lancelot, to flat-out trucker tall tale Little Liza Jane to…well, wherever Dave’s fertile imagination wandered.  “The music of my heart” was the phrase that occurred to me and has never left.

I was fortunate enough to see the duo perform live in November of that year, and many other times over the next three years.  Their second and third recordings, Tanglewood Tree and Drum Hat Buddha–similar mixes of songs, a bit more professionally produced, more of the most beautiful songs I’d ever heard and wordplay and “true stories”–appeared in 2000 and 2001.

I was even blessed to talk with Dave a little, after concerts, and to email–about the music and how it touched me–before he died, suddenly and unexpectedly, in July 2002, just before his 50th birthday and a week before the duo was scheduled for their main-stage Saturday night debut at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.  The time-slot turned into a celebration of the music performed by many Falcon Ridge artists (Chris and Meredith Thompson doing “Tanglewood Tree”!  Chris Smither’s “Crocodile Man”!  Pete and Maura Kennedy’s “When I Go”!)*  with Tracy closing the hour and allowing us to join her in mourning.  (“People keep telling me how brave I am to be here, so soon after Dave Carter died, but really–where else could I find a community that understands and shares the loss?”)

Tracy has continued bringing us Dave’s songs–as well as adding others to her public repertoire, mostly covers although the one composition of her own that has been shared with the public leaves me hoping there will eventually be more–with her own musical artistry and ever-more-beautiful voice and violin.  In addition to Seven Is the Number (re-recorded versions, by the duo, of an album Dave had cut before meeting her) and American Noel (Christmas songs the duo recorded as a commercial project), she has given us Flower of Avalon (Tracy’s solos on Dave’s songs) and, in 2012, Little Blue Egg (solos and duos, from newly rediscovered tapes).

I’ve since discovered other songwriters who speak to my heart, but Dave Carter’s songs are still at the very top of my list; when I started planning Folk Crossing, there was no debate about who would get pride of place.

*Don’t know some of these other artists?  Stay with Folk Crossing, and you will; they’re all on the agenda.

Posted 14 February 2013 by Folk Crossing in Music: Singer/Songwriter

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