Deana Carter,
The Chain
(Vanguard, 2007)

As a tribute to her father (longtime country guitarist Fred Carter Jr.), Deana Carter selected classic songs for The Chain. And for two-thirds of the album, she teams up with the music legend associated with each song. Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Paul Simon, Jessi Colter, George Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Shooter Jennings and John Anderson -- the presence of these country artists could sell the album all on its own.

The problem is ... it seems like that's what Deana Carter is counting on, perhaps on a subconscious level. Carter offers nice performances on each track, yet most sound as if she is trying not to steal the spotlight (despite it being her album). A great duet should firmly establish the presence of both performers, but in the case of this album, Carter takes a backseat presence in so many of the songs.

This doesn't seem like the same woman who burst on the music scene with "Strawberry Wine" on Did I Shave My Legs for This? It could be she's trying a more restrained approach, but it comes across as more timid than an intentionally subdued quality. In some ways, the album's production and guest performances reflect this quality. On "Love is Like a Butterfly," Dolly Parton seems to have picked up on Carter's timidity, as her (Parton's) own vocals sound more restrained than usual on a solo performance. Harper Simon's vocals on "The Boxer" have a similar hushed quality, but admittedly that may have been a conscious choice to keep with the song's theme.

Looking past Carter's presence (or lack thereof), this album does have great arrangements of timeless songs. There's a nice gender twist on the George Jones heartstring-puller with "He Thinks I Still Care." While diehard Neil Young fans will undoubtedly cringe at the very thought, Carter does a nice cover of "Old Man." And there's a great duet with Shooter Jennings on "Good Hearted Woman." In the case of this song, she stands firmly (vocally speaking) beside Jennings, getting at least as much focus as he does. And given the song subject, it's appropriate for her to get that kind of treatment.

It's a shame to write a negative-skewing review for The Chain, because it is actually a decent album. However, given the astronomical level of talent involved, the expectations are going to be raised for any listener. And when the central performer doesn't grab the reins and only offers decent levels, it's difficult for everything else to hold the songs together. The Chain had a lot of potential that it just doesn't quite reach. It's not a bad album by any means, but it ever-so-slightly misses the mark.

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review by
C. Nathan Coyle

31 May 2008

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