Album: Carter Tanton – Carter Tanton review

by Craig Howieson

Working within minimal parameters, Carter Tanton conjures a hauntingly sparse record of enrapturing beauty

The fact that Carter Tanton’s latest record is self titled seems fitting. Bar being passed to producer, John Angnello, once it was finished, who instead of grouting over any cracks, merely amplified its claustrophobic emotional clout, it is absent of any backing band or contributors. Marissa Nadler and Sharon Van Etten are just two that he has worked with in the past, but this collection is, quite simply, just him. 

With each song being written and recorded in a single day in his empty childhood home as it was waiting to be sold, the songs bear little adornment other than Tanton’s voice, delicate guitar and piano.  But while its components may be minimal, like a thick fog of tiny indecipherable droplets, it surrounds and devours you. 

Across the nine songs, Tanton’s words sound haunted. On the exquisite Willowy Five, melodies float away like a kite only to be pulled back close for fear of being blown away for good. And as the record settles in, it is hard not to picture Tanton sitting in that house, with the doors and windows flung open, allowing the ghosts of not just his, but his country’s past to come and rest on his shoulders, as he tries to make sense and find peace with them. For only then, will he be able to move forward.

Despite the album presenting itself as a document of intricate intimacy and personal wrangle, it is also outward looking. Observing with anguish the racial prejudice of his home city of Baltimore, it wrestles with the inevitable guilt of white privilege when faced with the creeping menace of the far right. 

The beauty and intensity of this record belies its quiet nature, as Tanton’s words rage like wildfire. Devastating, but impossible to turn from, they char the ground while providing an opportunity for self reflection and regrowth. As he sings on Mirrors, you say you feel so free then fall real fast / into troubled waters, a nagging past / and it drags you through the mud / but you can shine like gold,’ there is a pained acceptance of the toll a life spent looking back can take, coupled with the faintest glimmer of a brighter tomorrow. 

It would appear that despite bearing the burden of the past, he has left doors open: not just to let ghosts in, but to provide them with a way out, and the hope that they might take him with them. So that, just maybe, he can post his keys through the mail box as he leaves.

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