A Review of the Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer CD
"seven is the number"

"seven is the number"
by Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer

Copyright 2006

This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 7/06
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"

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Remember the well-worn platitude that you never get a second chance to make a first impression? Well, the late Dave Carter has proven such a bromide false.

In re-recording his 1995 release of "snake handlin' man," an album he later expressed some degree of regret over, Carter and his musical collaborator, caretaker and interpreter, Tracy Grammer, have provided fans a new sound and greater polish to Carter's first recorded musical effort. Not that there was anything distressing about the original CD--Carter's rookie release was still better than the majority issued at that time--but an overload of modesty and a degree of perfectionism apparently compelled Carter to wish he could make his initial professional product disappear. With Grammer nursing this project to fruition, the transition is now complete.

Two gentle Carter compositions have been added to the original release, the title cut "seven is the number" and "gas station girl," replacing "cowboy singer" and "the river, where she sleeps." The latter two were both released on previous Carter/Grammer musical communions. The numerology and nature-subject matter of "seven is the number" features Carter on lead vocals, with Grammer singing harmony and providing prominent backing on violin. On "gas station girl," an esoteric love song, Grammer is featured on fluttering mandolin. Some bluegrass band would be smart to nab this one and rev it up.

"snake-handlin' man" is brimstone and fire oratory, probably evoked from the evangelical religiosity of Carter's mother. It could be seen as an amalgamation of some of the spirit of "Don't Tread On Me" and the vocals and rhythm of "Little Liza Jane."

"red (elegy)" includes Grammer on violin backing and a mid-song solo--no violin appears on the initial release. This cut, as with "snake handlin' man," prominently displays the early-on virtuosity of Carter's songwriting.

Remarkably, Bruce Springsteen has a similarly-themed, same-titled song as Carter's "the promised land."

As with many of Carter's songs, even on this release, "Hey Tonya" features society's outcasts. Apparently the life and background of Tonya Harding provided at least some of the genesis for this song. And again, the following "Hey Tonya" lyrics are on a par with those from Carter's later musical creations:
"...now the winner's circle makes the rules in court
we get our spin on the wheel of fortune but we always come up short
so we play the game as long as we are able
but heaven's for the blessed, and the rest is just a young girl's fable..."
"Texas Underground" is Carter at his most charming and whimsical, having fun at the expense of used car salesmen, politicians, lawyers, state police, the press, agents of the IRS and others. Grammer's violin replaces the accordian backing from the original.

The bittersweet "long black road into tulsa town" features a most engaging chorus--one that listeners will be repeating:

"...states of misery, states of grace
trouble and joy on a young man's face
swing low, sweet chariot, take me down
that long, black road into tulsa town..."
The 'new' "workin' for jesus" adds Grammer on violin throughout and on harmony vocals in the last two choruses. The original was solely guitar-backed.

"gun-metal eyes" is another example of Carter's early songwriting equal to anything produced later. One addition here is Grammer harmonizing on the chorus.

"sarah turn 'round" defines aching melancholy and also contains Carter's first musical employment of the word 'goddess,' a subject he talked about often. Grammer adds touches of mandolin and harmonizes on the chorus. These lovely lines are as good as Carter ever produced:

"...they will tell you it's gospel
but they won't tell you why
how love conquers all
in the sweet by-and-by
so we flutter like snowflakes
and we twirl in the air
>and we melt in our moments of prayer..."

Overall, the new recording is clear and concise, with precise instrumentation and stronger vocals. This release is different in the ways noted above and displays better production and more professional recording techniques than the original. Hopefully, this should end the search by those seeking to snag the original as if it were the Holy Grail.

Hearing Carter's voice opening the CD with a previously unrecorded song, "seven is the number," is spooky and startling. It's like he never left or has somehow returned. Be prepared, or better yet, enjoy this reaction if it happens to you.

May Dave Carter rest in greater peace as more of his bountiful gifts have now blessed us.

*** For those with copies of the 1995 release, note in the brief liner notes that the person responsible for the front cover design of the original "snake-handlin' man" was tg. Coincidences abound.

Track List:

All songs written by Dave Carter.

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