Known as much for her life offstage as on, country rocker Carlene Carter has released her first collection of new material since 1995, when her 5 years on the country charts (with hits like "I Fell in Love" and "Every Little Thing") came to an end. During the rest of that decade, Carter - daughter of June Carter and '50s country star Carl Smith, and onetime wife of Nick Lowe - slowly drifted away from music. She bottomed out with a drug arrest in 2001, and then came the devastating losses in 2003 of her longtime partner (and ex-Tom Petty bassist) Howie Epstein, mother June, stepfather Johnny Cash, and younger sister Rosey Carter. In 2005, though, she resurfaced, portraying her mother in a Carter Family-themed musical, which in turn led to this welcome comeback effort.
If it's not surprising that Carter sounds a bit reserved here, it's also not surprising that Stronger has its fair share of good songs; she's always been an underrated writer, and thankfully her muse hasn't left her. Tunes like the frisky honky-tonkers "Break My Little Heart in Two" and "On to You" could fit right in with the current Nashville skyline, and the lilting "To Change Your Heart" carries a distinct Carter Family feel, neatly underscored by producer John McFee's allusive autoharp. Here's to unbroken circles.
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