Concert Highlights–Carlene Carter at the Cutting Room, 6/12/14

Carlene Carter sang “Me and the Wildwood Rose” midway through her set at the Cutting Room last night. It’s a song from her 1990 album I Fell in Love, which she wrote about traveling as a child with her grandmother, Mother Maybelle Carter, her mother June Carter Cash and aunts Helen and Anita Carter—then billed as Mother Maybelle & the Singing Carter Sisters—and her own little sister, Rosie.

In a big shiny car we’d head down the road
To sing for the miners who brought out the coal
Many a time I slept on the floorboard cold
On a quilt with my little sister
The Wildwood Rose

“It has a lot more meaning for me now that they’ve all passed on,” she said. But with her great new album Carter Girl (I should know. I wrote the liner notes.) she’s taken on the honor and responsibility of continuing the historic Carter Family tradition while adding to it.

She’s focusing on Carter Girl, of course, on her current tour. Accompanied by her longtime guitarist Sean Allen on guitars and lap steel, and on the album’s duets, husband Joe Breen, Carlene played acoustic guitar, autoharp and piano, standout songs from the album including first single “Little Black Train,” “Blackjack David” (Kris Kristofferson sings on the album version), “Troublesome Waters” (Willie Nelson) and her adaptation of the Carter Family’s “Lonesome Valley” (“Lonesome Valley 2003,” with Vince Gill, evoking the passing of her mother and stepfather Johnny Cash).

The Carter Family was further represented by Carlene’s version of “My Dixie Darlin’,” which she had also included in I Fell In Love, and she encored with her own big country hit from that period, “Every Little Thing.”

Speaking of which, she acknowledged that she had “tried all kinds of different things in her career—and I mean that: all kinds of different things!” and hinted at some of them at the start when she announced, “Don’t be scared. I’ve got underwear on tonight! Things do change.”

But her unchanged talent notwithstanding, the laughter turned to tears when she said, also of “Me and the Wildwood Rose,” how she thinks of her departed Carter girls everyday.

“I’m so lucky to still be here and play and be with friends,” she said. “I’m going to start to cry,” she added, and did—then finished, most appropriately and effectively, with the family’s signature hymn “Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By).”

Concert Highlights–David Johansen at Town Hall, 4/25/14

David Johansen was rightly introduced as “the world’s foremost ethnomusicologist” at his opening set of the double-billed David Bromberg/David Johansen show Friday night at Town Hall, a pairing, incidentally, that came out of their performances last year at the memorial at the Cutting Room for Stanley Snadowsky, co-owner of The Bottom Line, at which the two Davids were beloved regulars.

Sure enough, in his 45-minute set with his longtime, incredibly versatile guitar accompanist Brian Koonin, Johansen covered as many stylistic bases as time would allow, starting with a raucous version of his debut solo album hit “Funky But Chic”—which he later covered in the second incarnation of his New York Dolls (on the 2011 Dancing Backward in High Heels album) and including a lovely bossa nova take of his second solo album’s Four Tops-sounding “Melody,” a pristine acoustic guitar interpretation of his first solo album’s centerpiece “Frenchette” and folk-blues songs from his Henry Smiths band period.

But the set’s centerpiece had to be the one song Johansen has yet to record.

“I’ve been holding on to it,” he deadpanned. “Brian has connections in the Streisand camp, and it should be recorded by someone like that. I’m waiting for Tom Jones, or when The Boss gets writer’s block and is going through a fallow period.”

Not to discount any of them, but no one surpasses Johansen as a singer—or songwriter. Co-written with Koonin, the tentatively titled “Wandering Spirit Prayer” is a contemplative song about life and death. He sang it at the Snadowsky memorial, and at Town Hall—and everywhere else I’ve heard him do it—everyone present held their breath so as not to miss a word, let alone Johansen’s extraordinarily detailed vocal performance.

He’s the foremost ethnomusicologist, all right, and an artist without peer. The audience stood reverently after his traditional closer, “Heart of Gold.”

Here’s “Wandering Spirit Prayer”: