In today's job market it's often not what you know but who you know. If who you know happens to be your show business parents, it's a lot easier to answer the roar of the greasepaint yourself.
The music industry has a checkered history of offsprings who have tried to be a chip off the old blockbuster. Gary Lewis (Jerry's oldest) produced a hit or two with his Playboys (most notably "This Diamond Ring") but, after being drafted, he developed drug problems and has since kept a low profile.
Frank Sinatra Jr. and sister Nancy have 2 1/2 hits between them (all Nancy's: "These Boots Were Made For Walking," "Jackson" with Lee Hazelwood, and duet with Dad on "Something Stupid"). Dino Martin Jr. struck out with Dino, Desi, and Billy (Desi being Desi Arnaz Jr.) and then was accused of illegally selling firearms.
Of course, there are celebrities'children who do just fine. Both Liza Minnelli and Natalie Cole have forged individual indentities despite the burden of their parents' fame. Rick Nelson's string of his in the early '60s dwarfed anything Ozzie ever did as a bandleader (yes, television watchers, old Oz did more than wear sweaters). Shaun Cassidy probably earns more money in a week than his actor parents (Carolyn Jones and the late Ted Cassidy) ever did. And Debbie Boone lights up father Pat's life with each new royalty check.
Now, there is a new addition to the list: Carlene Carter.
Rather than name their boy Sue, Johnny Cash and June Carter named their girl Carlene and she currently has a spread in "People Magazine," a debut album and two nights at the Cellar Door this weekend. She's obviously out to prove that she's more than just a star's kid.
Carlene has sung with her family on some of their shows and her album is dedicated "to my grandmother, Maybelle Carter," so you'd think the album would have a country flavour, you'd think her folks' down-home style would dominate her sound; you'd think Carlene Carter was prepping to be the new Loretta Lynn. You'd think wrong.
Not only is "Carlene Carter" a rock'n'roll album, but her band is the Rumour, and she gets additional help from Graham Parker and Nick Lowe. The Rumour is Parker's band and one of the best supporting units in existence. Lowe is Elvis Costello's producer and his own solo album has gotten a lot of attention. The Man in Black has a daughter with latent New Wave tendencies.
Actually, by New Wave standards, the album is tame. Carter's voice is thin and her range is limited. Then again, Daddy isn't exactly a Golden Throat,either.
Yet, Carter is expressive and she knows how to use her strengths. "Never Together But Close Sometimes" - the disk's stronger cut - has a reggae verse, a pop chorus, and a hook that is genuine mass-appeal. "Mr. Moon" is sexy in an innocent way and "Alabama Mornings" sounds countryish, but far from bayseed. The tune lilts along nicely and Carter's phrasing is simple and effective.
The record's real strength is guitarist Brinsley Schwarz (also co-producer). His work shapes the whole album and his leads are the hottest things on the tracks. The break in "Love Is Gone" saves what would otherwise be just another filler and makes it memorable, and his background work on "Slow Dance" is foreground quality.
Parker and Lowe are much less noticeable. Parker adds a guitar to "Smoke Dreams" and a backing vocal to his own "Between Yor and Me," but you have to strain to hear him. Lowe helps out on "Love is Gone" and plays bass for "I Once Knew Love" but isn't a force. This is Carter's album and she has taken the full risk.
Sometimes she loses the gamble. As a songwriter, she is still in the learning stage, and her three compositions here are the weaker tunes. "Slow Dance" works mainly because of its tight instrumentation, but "I Once Know Love" is lyrically awkward and overly sentimental. As for "Who Needs Words," the answer is Carter and she could also use a stronger delivery before attempting another acoustic ballad.
The photos on the album's jacket picture Carter as sultry and chic, and it will be interesting to see her act here. On the one hand, she should have tons of experience and stage presence from all those years with Johnny and June. On the other hand, Carlene Carter is not singing "Folsom Prison Blues" and the career path she's chosen runs in a different direction than her father's.
Carlene Carter shows potential, but needs to develop. That's one reason why she's out on the road thid early in her career. Might as well get the baptism over with and get on with the music. The name can get you the initial publicity, after that, you're on your own.