Album Review – Melissa Carper’s “Ramblin’ Soul”

photo: Aisha Golliher

Go ahead. Commence a study to try and find a record that more closely interprets all of the classic American music sounds into new original music. Assemble a commission and crowdsource the public to see if any other album is capable of besting it as a specimen of old school sounds. Put it in a blind Pepsi taste test with other albums from the 40s and 50s, and dare the participants to tell the difference. Melissa Carper’s Ramblin’ Soul will fit right in, like it’s just one of numerous selections from a stack of 78s.

For now the second time in a row and in as many years, Melissa Carper and her cohorts have crafted an exquisite work of audio goodness that mesmerizes with its wayback sound and style, stealing you to a simpler era in music when everything made more sense, and the very foundations of American music were set. Original era country, ragtime jazz, Western swing, vintage rhythm and blues are all expressed here and in a seamless experience, with the almost ghostly tone of Melissa Carper pouring out of your speakers like an apparition from the past summoned to entertain.

Carper’s 2021 record Daddy’s Country Gold was the welcome arrival of a long-time bass player and collaborator in a host of bands as an important new solo artist, even if she had been known and beloved by studious roots fans for years. The results were so good, Carper chose to not mess with the formula on this new one at all. Melissa solicited mostly the same set of pickers and players, folks like Chris Scruggs on the console steel, Billy Contreras on fiddle, Wes Langlois on guitar, and fellow old soul Sierra Ferrell singing harmonies, with Andrija Tokic and Dennis Crouch of The Time Jumpers co-producing the sessions.

Composing 10 of the 13 tracks herself, the writing of Ramblin’ Soul is simple, but delightfully so, and in a way that is authentic to the era and sound looked to be evoked, with the exception of a glaring anachronism of a 1980 Dodge van. But hey, for anyone that has every fell in love with a vehicle, it is a forgivable sin. When Melissa sings Odetta’s “Hit or Miss,” it slides right into the universe she creates for this record through her own songs. Brennen Leigh and Gina Gallina also contribute writing to the album.

From choral singers to a well-timed clarinet, to the tone of the guitars and the simplicity of the drums, everything is measured to rest right down in American music’s classic era down to the square inch. Even if this throwback sound is not exactly your speed, or if you feel Melissa Carper’s voice has too much for an affectation for you to enjoy personally, you still have to tip your hat, and slow clap at just how accurately the sound is rendered on this album to the target time period. This is feat all unto itself.

The further you go in this album, the more it sucks you in. The Western swing number “Texas, Texas, Texas” is delightful. “Boxers on Backwards” shows off some of Carper’s corn pone-style of humor that she works so well into her songs. Though the songs never require the audience to go too deep, songs like “I Do What I WANNA” and Odetta’s “Hit or Miss” still come with important messages about being yourself instead of what the world wants you to become. But moreover, these are songs about being on the move that get you moving too. Among other positive attributes, it’s a good road record.

There is not a ton to say about this album because simplicity is its virtue. But there are few better artists, and few better albums than Ramblin’ Soul for just putting on in the background, with no need to skip a single track, and letting the vintage music goodness take you away to an easier time.

8/10

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