Whether they’re considered a bluegrass band with a blues-rock guitar or a blues-rock band with a banjo, the Carter Brothers take a middle road that’s been lightly traveled. “The Road to Roosky” is one that has been paved with tradition and sealed with innovation.
Descendants of the same bloodline as the Carter Family’s A.P. Carter, Danny and Tim Carter are keeping the music in the family tree but are doing it out on their own limb. The brothers said they have always been determined to utilize their own creativity and make their own path, opting not to lean on the family name of the America’s first country music group.
Like A.P., who traveled the country and blended the musical styles he found throughout, the Carter Brothers are melding their influences into a sound all their own.
In the early 1990s, Danny and Tim moved from their home in the N.C. Piedmont to Nashville, Tenn., where they were signed to a major label but were dropped before they could put out an album.
Regardless, they continued to play hundreds of shows each year and went on to release recordings on their own. Last year, after performing together for more than 30 years, the Carter Brothers inked a deal with the reputable independent label, Compass Records, which released “Road to Roosky” in October 2011.
“Road to Roosky” contains some of the traditionals passed down from the time of their famous ancestors, like “Deep Ellum Blues,” but there’s also plenty of original material from the Carter Brothers. Either way, their music does not conform to accepted standards. Not used to hearing blues and bluegrass juxtaposed and intermingled and instruments being played in unusual settings, the average person will probably be confused by the Carter Brothers at first listen. Given a few moments to adjust, they’ll put together the familiar and foreign elements of what they’re hearing.
Tim getting down on the blues with his banjo like he does on “Red Rooster” is an uncommon find, as are the solos exchanged between Danny’s electric guitar and Tim’s banjo on “King of the Hill.” Those are the qualities on “Road to Roosky” that put the Carter Brothers into an indeterminable genre.
Contrary to the argument that the inability to be labeled would make them hard to market, the rebelliousness of the Carter Brothers has garnered them admiration.
People across the states and overseas in Europe have been extremely receptive to the Carters’ modifications, and they’ve earned accolades from fellow musicians who have also been known to push boundaries. In addition to their top-notch support players, bassist Ross Sermons and drummer Dann Sherrill, the Carter Brothers picked up support from slide guitarist Ferrell Stowe and master mandolin players Sam Bush and Tim O’Brien. The father of hillbilly jazz, Vassar Clements, even lent his fiddle and voice to the guys on “Jerusalem Moan,” which was recorded prior to his death in 2005.
Between Danny and Tim, there’s an attractive contrast not only in their voices, but in their lyricism, as well. At times, it’s as if Tim is the angel on one shoulder, and Danny is the devil on the other.
Tim dreams in his cherubic voices of a world in which “we’d all love our neighbors and give ’em all a chance, we’d all grow together and everyone could dance.”
Conversely, Danny hangs out at a bar called Creepy Pete’s and laments in his best blues moan about waking up “with the worst hangover I ever had.” They play the parts well, but they are not cemented to them, treading the middle line on their collaborations.
The Carter Brothers have received considerable traffic via “The Road to Roosky” and it’s doubtful the flow of spectators will slow down any time soon. Those who have discovered the Carter Brothers have found an American treasure; sure, they’ve got the admirable pedigree, but they’re also laying down new pavement that’s been in need for far too long.