Review: Melissa Carper’s Soulful Ramblin’ is a Charming Late Year Americana Highlight

Melissa Carper
Ramblin’ Soul
(Mae Music/Thirty Tigers)
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

The contemporary queen of Western Swing changes her approach slightly in this follow-up to the jazzy and appropriately titled Daddy’s Country Gold (2021). It’s a smart move for Melissa Carper since this folksy direction allows her to expand her musical map without sacrificing the old-timey feel that fits her like the jean jacket on this disc’s cover photo.

Carper has been called the “HillBillie Holiday” due to her vocal similarity to the legendary jazz/blues artist. And while that might seem a little schlocky, it’s impossible not to make the comparison when you hear Carper’s innocent, sweet, contentedly scratchy voice featured on these 13 songs.

Listeners will break out in grins when pushing play and hearing the swinging sounds of the title track. The snappy singer/songwriter loves to travel as she attests on the very Hank Williams Sr. styled selection, singing No you can’t keep me in a hole/Cause Lord I’m a ramblin’ soul as tinkling piano and squiggly pedal steel lines underpin and enhance the vibe. Carper then turns to old-school country on the toe-tapping “Zen Buddha,” assisted by lively backing vocals led by the amazing Kyshona Armstrong and Sierra Ferrell.

Carper goes bluegrass on the sly, self-deprecating humor of “Boxers on Backwards” about not going out to find romance due to I could turn my boxers ‘round, go out on the town…I ate some leftover beans and it’s a sure thing/I ain’t gettin’ lucky tonight as a frisky fiddle flits around.

This folk slant helps her move away from the all-swing-all-the-time role while staying true to the roots of Americana she is clearly inspired by. Check out the clarinet on the honky tonk/Dixieland swing of “Holding All the Cards,” not an instrument you hear in many country songs. Her ballads are just as jaunty, proven by the waltz-time “I Don’t Need to Cry” where she hopes to leave her sorrowful times behind on the bittersweet weeper. The groove shifts into smoother, sadder Patsy Cline territory for the noir blues of “From What I Recall,” a bittersweet gem that reflects on a mismatched relationship describing why it should have failed because we were never right for each other, until the final twist of So after all this time has passed/Why does my love for you last… after all. It brings a sniffle.

Credit goes to producers Dennis Crouch and Andrija Tokic for capturing the sassy but supple spirit brimming from every note without turning this into a caricature of retro C&W. These 42 minutes fly by so quickly with a vivacious and vigorous life-affirming heart that the music demands another spin.

Those unfamiliar with Carper’s charming voice and low-key, charismatic approach should start here. But older fans will also embrace her relaxed, robust personality and the rambunctious ramblin’ soul evident on her finest release yet.   

Photo credit Aisha Golliher  / Sideways Media 

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