Most folks whose biographies read like Carlene Carter's aren't around to enjoy their talent in later life.
Though she was born into country music's greatest family -- her mother is the late June Carter Cash, her stepfather the late Johnny Cash, her grandmother the late Maybelle Carter of the cherished Carter Family band -- Carlene became one of music's most bullheaded outsiders. She acknowledged no boundary lines in terms of sound and style; she worked at her own pace, and with whom she wanted, Nashville be damned; and she didn't so much flirt with trouble as fully embrace it and take it home with her.
This led to problems -- four marriages; drug issues; arrests; the death by overdose of Howie Epstein, her lover of 15 years and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers bassist; a country music industry grown cold and indifferent to her charms. But it also led to some fantastic records, a few pure country-rock gems produced by then-husband Nick Lowe, and a few others produced by Epstein, but all marked by that gorgeously clear and compelling voice that screams Carter Family.
Following the loss of her mother, stepfather, sister and Howie Epstein all in a shockingly short span, Carter began a period of reflection, during which she cleaned up, kicked drugs and ultimately released the 2008 comeback album "Stronger." That it flipped the lids of fans like Elvis Costello, as well as a still sizable mass of followers, is a testament to Carter's talent and durability. Many claimed, not unduly, that "Stronger" ranked among her best work.
With a new lease on life, Carter is back on the road. She'll perform at Kleinhans Music Hall next Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased via www.BPO.org.
-- Jeff Miers