Carlene Carter @ Whelans, Dublin - 14th June 2016

This is a very welcome return to Ireland for Carlene Carter and she takes to the stage with great energy and enthusiasm for tonight’s show. Playing acoustic guitar, keyboards and auto harp Carlene performs a set that visits various stages of her career while also paying tribute to the legacy of the Carter Family, especially her mother June Carter Cash and of course, the man in black, Johnny.

Carlene has always been noted for her strong vocal delivery and this has not changed over the years. She can still hold a tune better than most and delivers with an impressive stage performance that highlights her warm personality and her ability to tell a good story.

There are tales of her Mother and her Grandma and insights into the life they led as the Carter Family in bringing music to greater America, where the live performance was everything. It is the songs that hold the memory dear and Carlene talks of losing her mother in 2003, along with her sister and step-father over a short space of time.

She speaks of living a life that has been full of great experiences but also says that she was a "train wreck and a half" at one point, where she needed to make some serious changes.

From her latest release, Carter Girl, we are treated to great versions of Little Black Train, Lonesome Valley and Me and the Wildwood Rose (written in memory of her sister Rosie). With Black Jack David she is joined by her husband Joe Breen (see above) who sings harmony and trades verses which is followed by a rendition of 40 Shades of Green where the audience sings along with this Johnny Cash penned song written on a Irish visit.

Ring of Fire, written by her Mother, is played in a stripped-down style that adds greatly to the original song meaning of falling so hard for someone that the flames of desire engulf you. Troublesome Water is a song that reminds Carlene of her Grandpa and his love for fishing and the thrill of being rescued at sea by the coast guard when the boat had run out of fuel and could not return to shore.

Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town was covered by Emmylou Harris and we are given a fine example of her song-writing craft on a number of selections such as The Bitter End and Change, a very personal song in which she sings "sleep is not my friend, ‘cause dreams just feed my tears." 

This is a very honest performer who lives her life large and is proud of all the highs and lows. She speaks of her family heritage with endearing reflection and affection for all that has passed in between. Singing Wildwood Flower and Dixie Darling brings home the history shared across country music by this legendary family and the reach that the music continues to have into the hearts and minds of music lovers around the globe.

A fine artist who wears her fame lightly and who continues to deliver at a high level of integrity in her writing and in singing these songs of pain and redemption. 

Review by Paul McGee  Photograph by Declan Culliton