With the exception of the opening track, "The Bitter End," every song on Carlene Carter's latest CD, "Stronger" was written by Carter herself alone. Although this seems like a departure from her past records, Carter hinted that wasn't exactly the case.
"Here's a secret I'll probably get in trouble for saying, but on a lot of collaborations, I gifted part of songwriting credit to my producers," she said in a recent telephone interview. "But this album was really personal for me and I did on all my own time. I didn't bring it to anyone until I was almost done."
Carter will sing from this latest CD and her others when she appears at the Iron Horse Music Hall on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash, described the writing process for "Stronger" as "spending whole days venting in one way or another." She said that collaborating might not have worked well in this case.
"It was important that I got to say everything I wanted to say and when I write with other people sometimes it can make you inhibited," she said.
For fans, "Stronger" is a huge relief. It had been 13 years since Carter released a record (1995's "Little Acts of Treason") and the singer-songwriter had times when it appeared she might not survive, let alone record again. She was arrested for drugs in 2001 and 2003 brought her a series of personal heartbreaks (her mother, her step-father Johnny Cash, her sister Rosey Carter, and her former boyfriend, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' bassist Howie Epstein, all died within months of each other).
But Carter is nothing if not a survivor and "Stronger" is a testament to her spirit. She credits the record's producer, John McFee, for a lot of the album's strength. McFee also played most of the instruments on the CD.
"This album was a joy to make and John is fabulous producer," she said. "He let me do my thing then put it together. I wrote album in about six months and John and I did all the recording in about six months and that includes him being on road for some of that time."
Local fans may recall that one of Carter's biggest hits, "Every Little Thing" off 1993's "Little Love Letters" CD was co-written by NRBQ's Big Al Anderson, who had moved to Nashville after leaving the band. Carter remembers her collaborations with Anderson fondly.
"We were very prolific together," she said. "We love each other and we'd have days where we'd write three or four songs. I usually did the lyrics and he did most music and worked really well, but sometimes we'd do it the other way around. I learned so much writing with other people like Al."
One thing that has changed a bit since the public last heard from Carter is her voice. While she was always blessed with a great one, now her tones are darker and a bit lower.
"I think it's just maturity and having been on stage for the last 30 years, so I know my voice better," she said. "It's also that during albums I made in '80s and '90s, I wanted to be perfect. Now my voice isn't as affected as it was and I like it better."
Maturity has also brought another gift to Carter: a sense of freedom.
"I'm not as scared of not making it," she said. "A lot of people start out in music and once you get to certain point, you're scared of losing it. I was never really that way because I've always done it for love of music. And while I'd love more people to hear my record, I'm where I want to be."