Carter Tanton is a singer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. As well as his solo work he has been a member of Lower Dens and Strand Of Oaks, and recorded or toured with the likes of The War On Drugs and Marissa Nadler. Marissa appears as a guest vocalist on his most recent record, as does the always wonderful Sharon Van Etten.
Carter Tanton’s music seeks to blend roots music from either side of the Atlantic, The Long Goodbye is finger picking from Nick Drake and Richard Thompson’s big book of British Folk, whilst the alt-country of Ryan Adams and Americana of his Strand Of Oaks bandmates are also clear influences. The majority of tracks here take an acoustic guitar as their lead, although the instrumentation builds on that basic sound, incorporating a huge array of instrumentation from synths to slide guitars.
Although the majority of his latest record, Jettison The Valley, was written in a trailer by the side of the M5 on the outskirts of Bristol, Carter is originally from Baltimore. The city, made famous by gritty TV show The Wire, is the largest city in Maryland with a population over 600,000 people. Baltimore boasts the rather odd fact that it has more public monuments per capita than any other city in the US. Famous resident include Babe Ruth, Edgar Allan Poe and John Waters, whilst musical offspring include Billie Holiday, Tori Amos and Frank Zappa as well as bands Beach House, Animal Collective and Wye Oak.
Carter started playing shows in Baltimore at the age of just 15, and found a modicum of critical acclaim when playing in the band Tulsa in the mid-2000’s. Following a legal-wrangle the band split up without releasing their second album, and Carter sunk into the background playing guitar and producing. 2012 saw him return to the front of stage though releasing a collection of songs entitled Freeclouds via his latest home Western Vinyl. 2012 also saw Carter move to the UK and begin work on his upcoming album, Jettison The Valley.
Talents don’t come much more prodigious than Carter Tanton; bar two tracks of pedal steel, Carter plays every instrument on Jettison The Valley, as well as engineering the whole thing himself. His guitar playing throughout is constantly impressive, the way his fingers flutter effortlessly around the instrument, makes it clear that he is someone who has just made playing guitar a part of his everyday life. Whether he’s finger picking his way around a folk number, or propelling the more wide-screen Americana sound, he is just a natural guitar talent.
Whilst Carter has spoke of Jettison The Valley’s very English inception, for the most part it’s his American roots that shine through. The title track, featuring a stunning lead vocal from Marissa Nadler, starts off like Fleet Foxes minus the harmonies and takes a beautiful side-step into Cicada Rhythm-like country, whilst much of the record recalls the varied and versatile work of Ryan Adams. The Dressmaker’s Girl, the stand-out track on the album, has the alternative-country of Heartbreaker nailed, Through The Garden Gates is the sound of gloomier Love Is Hell period, whilst Diamonds In The Mine with it’s gorgeous acoustic guitar works and crystalline pedal-steel is pure Whiskeytown.
When you’ve called the likes of Sharon Van Etten and Marissa Nadler into help on vocals you’re in danger of not being the star yourself, but Carters own voice is excellent throughout, there’s hints of Gram Parsons and even a touch of a more insouciant Rufus Wainwright at times. What’s even better though is the treatment of the vocals, the use of harmonies and reverb throughout is capable of lifting many of these songs into intriguing territory.
Whilst the story behind Jettison the Valley is intriguing, Carter is prone to the odd clunky lyrical misstep; his regular use of baby, darling and honey are a little grating at times, whilst, “here the sky feels ten feet tall from Wales to the pubs of Hull”, is a lyric that sticks with you for all the wrong reasons, even if it does make us smile every time. There’s also a question of how relevant Carter’s sound is in 2016. This sort of earnest-Americana is entirely out of fashion, and unless you’re a huge fan of the genre, Jettison The Valley is likely to be impressive rather than life changing.
Jettison The Valley is out March 4th via Western Vinyl.