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Barton Carroll
Avery County, I'm Bound To You
Skybucket Records
www.bartoncarroll.com


Barton Carroll has a history of penning songs that have a serious and intense personal bent. I have long held that his persistence in claiming no personal attachments in the songs he writes is somewhat impossible and highly improbable when one listens closely to his lyrics. But after looking into my literary background and realizing that authors like Hemingway and Steinbeck certainly wrote intensely personal stories of lives that were not their own I am willing to allow that Carroll could write these songs about other lives than his own.

That is not so on Avery County, I'm Bound to You, Carroll's 2013 release on Skybucket Records. Here, Carroll allows, are songs that have a more direct tie to his own life and the places from which he has come. Barton's distinctive voice and melodic character remain the centerpiece of the songs on Avery County... and the musical arrangements lean somewhere between the weird Victorian slant of his last record (Together You And I) and his earlier, more direct, folk (and rock) works (The Lost One). These new songs tend to have a very Barton-esque quality without getting too heavy at any time and lean well into the Appalachian sound upon which he was surely raised. In fact, in most of the songs on Avery County..., the sound of the Carolinas and the mountains seeps in with a strong hand, lending much more credence to Carroll's own admission that, finally, here are songs that have more to do with his own life.

“The Straight Mile” kicks the record off with its distinctly Barton-esque rhythm and cadence. The song carries the listener along quite nicely, and fans of Carroll's previous records will feel immediately at home, until... there it is... an organ slowly builds in and layers itself nicely with the acoustic guitars creating a nice sounds reminiscent of The Who's glory days before the organ takes a left turn and launches into a very 1970s' solo with tremendous prog rock potential, creating just enough of a weird discord to make the song really stand out. And when a line hits like “You let me down, you broke my heart/ But I don't walk through the valley alone/I always pray to Saint Joey Ramone” it only solidifies the literary brilliance contained in the mind of this amazing American songwriter. “It Had To Be A Train” is all sawing fiddle and lilting Appalachian folk in sound, but the bitter and biting words are modern and brilliant and filled with miraculously funny literary references. The lyrics take a deeply personal bent on “Laveda” and the biting vehemence that has often worked its way into Carroll's lyrics is extant on this twisted story of love-not-love, some truths buried inside words that twist upon themselves brilliantly before a haunting flute solo takes the helm for a small piece of time, after which the biting lyrics return with even more vitriol than before.

Daring and true Appalachia rears its beautiful head on “Beech Mtn Waltz.” The song has the lilting waltz for which it is named and the story is a beautiful tale of love and growing up and the dangers of that love and growing up and how the world changes around those in that love. “Pauline” is a love song to a good friend and a story of seemingly dark intentions, only amplified by the minor key acoustic guitar that darkly carries the words along... words like “mendacity” and phrases like “wretched like an animal.” The only thing that interrupts the melancholy of the acoustic guitar and vocal melody is a twisting, dark, distorted guitar solo that only lends more to the ominous feeling of the tune before a whole new set of bitter-drenched lyrics carry the song to its conclusion.

The tone changes quickly on “What A Picture Is” but the dark lyrical content continues; the story of stalking an ex-lover, or a desired lover, is hilarious and terrifying all at once, showcasing Carroll's perfect grasp of language and his cunning use of turns of phrase to drive his point home. We are treated to more lively flute playing and bright drumming that somehow serves to confuse the intention of the lyric, once more creating that dystopian paradox that pulls the listener in ever closer, searching for that weird light that emanates always from the dark. “Mama's Making Something On The Loom” returns us neatly to Appalachia and a lighter tale of life as a child in the hills and the magic of the loom and the stories it weaves. This is probably the most uplifting moment of any of Carroll's records to date, and it's a wonderful tribute to his home and his family and the culture that brought his wonderful mind into the world.

“Every Little Bit Hurts” is a beautifully played tune, with quick, melodic fingerpicking make the best of the acoustic guitar and really showcasing the virtuosity found in Carroll's hands, all the while spitting irony and sardonic casts at the world and twisting an old quip into a new, dark use. There is some brilliant wordplay that happens between the narrator and the three antagonists found within the song, creating another song that will keep a listener coming back for more and more listens, not only for the great melodic playing, but also for the brilliant lyricism. “The Saviors Of The World” is an anomaly here; lyrically the song could be pulled forth from the same origins as much of Led Zeppelin's middle-era tunes and the music turns far more rock than anything else I can recall Carroll ever doing. After a minor key acoustic song basically comes to completion things suddenly turn strange, becoming all drums, electric guitars, and distortion which makes for a very strange bedfellow sitting amongst these pretty acoustic songs and somehow (at least to my ears) the song just doesn't quite sit. But everything is once again melodic beauty and perfection on “Avery County, I'm Bound To You.” The music is once more acoustic, but the drums make their first seemingly full appearance, making this final song the first that could be considered a “radio song” or “pop song” on the album. We are treated to a much more friendly organ solo, balanced guitars, and lyrics that pay a sweet homage to Carroll's birthplace.

Even though nothing here is as it appears, the fact that the most beautiful place can conceal the worst pain imaginable is implied, or stated outright, in many of these songs. It is a feeling that a lot of people who reach their middle years and still have unrest probably feel. The songs on Avery County... express many things; yearning for what is lost, looking for what may be, the pain of loving and living a life that is not as simple or plain as an outsider might see it to be. There is a deep humanity in these songs, much like Carroll has presented in all of his work to date, but here it possibly holds even great import, as perhaps now, finally, we get some real piece of the authors own soul and not just his literary prowess.

-David DeVoe

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