Album Review – “Ramblin’ Soul” by Melissa Carper

photo: Aïcha Golliher

To chase. Start a study to try to find a record that more faithfully interprets all the sounds of classic American music in new original music. Gather a commission and crowdsource the public to see if another album can top it as a specimen of old-school sounds. Put it in a blind Pepsi taste test with other albums from the 40s and 50s, and challenge participants to tell the difference. by Melissa Carper Ramblin’Soul will fit in perfectly, as if it were just one of many selections from a stack of 78s.

For the second time in a row and in as many years, Melissa Carper and her bandmates have created an exquisite work of audio goodness that mesmerizes with its throwback sound and style, transporting you to a simpler era of music where everything had more meaning, and the very foundations of American music were laid. Original-era country, ragtime jazz, western swing, rhythm and vintage blues are all expressed here and in one seamless experience, with Melissa Carper’s almost ghostly tone pouring out of your speakers like a apparition from the past summoned to entertain.

Carper’s 2021 record Daddy’s Country Gold was the welcome arrival of a longtime bassist and collaborator in a multitude of bands as an important new solo artist, though she had been known and loved by studious roots fans for years. The results were so good that Carper chose not to play around with the formula for this again at all. Melissa tapped mostly the same set of selectors and players, folks like Chris Scruggs on console steel, Billy Contreras on fiddle, Wes Langlois on guitar, and the vocal harmonies of Sierra Ferrell, with Andrija Tokic and Dennis Crouch of The Time Jumpers co-produce the sessions.

Composing 10 of the 13 titles herself, the writing of Ramblin’Soul is simple, yet deliciously, and in a way that’s authentic to the era and sound that seemed to be conjured up, save for one glaring anachronism of a 1980 Dodge pickup truck. But hey, for anyone who’s fallen in love with a vehicle is a forgivable sin. When Melissa sings “Hit or Miss” by Odetta, she slips directly into the universe she is creating for this record through her own songs. Brennen Leigh and Gina Gallina also contribute writing to the album.

From the choir singers to a well-timed clarinet, to the tone of the guitars and the simplicity of the drums, everything is measured to rest in the classic era of American music down to the square inch. Even if that feedback sound isn’t exactly your speed, or if you feel Melissa Carper’s voice has too much affect for you to personally enjoy, you should still tip your hat and clap slowly to precision with which the sound is rendered on this album at the target period. It’s a feat in itself.

The further you get into this album, the more it sucks you in. The “Texas, Texas, Texas” western swing number is delicious. “Boxers on Backwards” shows off some of Carper’s corn pony-style humor that she incorporates so well into her songs. Although the songs never ask the audience to go overboard, songs like “I Do What I WANNA” and Odetta’s “Hit or Miss” still contain important messages about being yourself instead of of what the world wants you to become. But what’s more, they’re songs about being on the move that make you move too. Among other positive attributes, it is a good road record.

There isn’t a ton to say about this album because simplicity is its virtue. But there are few better artists and few better albums than Ramblin’Soul to simply put in the background, without needing to skip a single track, and let the goodness of vintage music take you to an easier time.


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