I want to call her 'Little' Carrie Elkin but I know she would take offense (but without taking offense because she knows that it is meant in as endearing a fashion as I can muster). She is a mere slip of a girl with a wide smile and an echoing laugh as well as a musical vision. When she played The Alberta Street Pub in Portland, Oregon last year, she overcame sound bleeding through the wall which separated the tavern from the listening room with cheerful banter and a strong voice which belies her size and while I wanted to step into the other room to demand a bit of respect, I didn't because she was happy just to be singing for and with friends and fans and who am I to cast dirt on a warm flame.
It was a special night, though I didn't think of it that way until later. I had seen Carrie perform at the 2009 Sisters Folk Festival as backup voice for Danny Schmidt but it was Danny's gig and not Carrie's. I did have her The Jeopardy of Circumstance album as an indicator of what she could do, but I really had no idea. At the pub, she stood in summer dress with nothing but a mid-size guitar and voice and separated herself from her musical past and all I could think was, Mama, our little girl is growing up. She still had that folkie innocence which made Jeopardy worth hearing but she had indeed grown. There was an ease about her, a confidence that only time and the road can give you, and yet there was a certain softness in her approach. She sang to the song, as a friend once described a certain singer's strength, and overtook it only when making a point.
One such point was her rendition of Dar Williams' Iowa, the only non-original included in Call It My Garden. After a short bit of praise for the song and Ms. Williams, Carrie eased into the song with soft voice and allowed it to build until the end when she was forced to turn her back to microphone and audience on the final chorus, entire body tensed and cowboy boots driving the music home beneath overwhelming voice. Such a performance makes for a memory of note and believe me, it was noted.
Not all of the songs on Call It My Garden were performed that night—she was still working on some and a couple were ideas not yet formed—but it didn't matter. The few that were were a glimmer of the new and an indication of the progress she had made and that was enough. When the new album finally hit my desk, it brought back memories of that night—the way Carrie kicked one leg out as her body tensed to hit a note, the enthusiastic crowd response, the way Carrie virtually folded the crowd into her music, and the one ale I allowed myself (I do not drink when I drive, but the music drove me to it and it was cold and wet and tasted great).
There is much more here, though. Call It My Garden is not just Carrie Elkin and I am sure she would be the first one to admit it. It is Danny Schmidt and, from The Band of Heathens, Colin Brooks, and a host of others brought into the studio to add the touches which take it to another level. You hear it especially on the first two songs, Jesse Likes Birds (with its western roots-infused base and tasteful full-on choir on the chorus) and Guilty Hands (the choir, redux, and very impressive), which is not to say that the rest is filler. Berlin is a perfect vehicle for Carrie's voice, Shots Rang Out is an arrangement gem and you don't find many folk songs like The Things We're Afraid Of these days—at least, not enough.
But, hey, don't take my word for it. After all, I'm prejudiced. I saw Carrie Elkin live in a small room with a host of who, if not friends when they got there, were thereafter. That's what music does to you sometimes. It gives you common ground. Believe me, the world would be a much better place if we had more of it.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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