The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Tom Brosseau
In the Shadow of The Hill: Songs from the Carter Family catalogue, Vol. 1 Lara C Cory , October 8th, 2019 06:59

Folksinger Tom Brosseau finds curatorial flair in his selections from the Carter Family songbook, finds Lara C Cory

American folksinger and songwriter Tom Brosseau learned to play guitar from his grandmother. Travelling the world, he’s played music in grand halls and old folks’ homes, swapping notes and songs with luminaries along the way including Patrick Marber and Bonnie Raitt. Brosseau’s voice is his defining trait; a register that’s high and gentle, he has a gift for expressing inexpressible tenderness with the finesse of vocalists like Don McLean or Jeff Buckley. While Brosseau’s music might occasionally dip into the troubadour stylings of McLean and Buckley, it is for the most part, firmly rooted in the American folk legacy. Which is why his latest release In the Shadow of The Hill: Songs from the Carter Family catalogue, Vol. 1 feels like the perfect convergence of style and tradition.

A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter, who started singing as The Carter Family way back in 1927, were some of the most important figures in early American music. Their music helped shape not only the sound, but the very cultural identity of the United States. Maybelle Carter became famous for developing a style of playing the melody, rhythm and bass simultaneously on her guitar. Known as the Carter Scratch, it became a heavily emulated style of guitar playing and Maybelle is considered to be perhaps the first lead guitarist ever.

With hundreds of recordings under their belt, the Carter Family legacy is no small affair, so it could be said that much of the success of Brosseau’s fourteenth album hinges on his curatorial flair. Selecting lesser known and the more rarely recorded tunes from the Carter repertoire, some of the best songs on this release were penned by Joe and Jeanette Carter (the children of A.P and Sara Carter).

In the Shadow of The Hill: Songs from the Carter Family catalogue, Vol. 1 opens with two wonderfully jaunty tracks that get your toe tapping, but by the third song ‘My Texas Girl’ there’s a distinct melancholy that winds its way not only into the narrative but also the music, starting with a single note played on the violin by Sara Watkins (sister and bandmate of Sean).

‘Chewing Gum’ is an exemplar of the record, both deeply charming and deceptively jolly. This tune gets under your skin with its simple, repetitive chorus and prosaically provincial verses. Warning of the pitfalls of love and the dangers of local pillars, the listener is reminded of the struggles of a simpler time.

‘St Regious Girl’ and ‘Where the Silver Colorado Wends its Way’ are classic tales of romantic tragedy; the combination of Brosseau’s naturally plaintive vocal style and Watkins’ traditional guitar technique and harmonies gives the already delightfully poignant songs an ageless beauty.

‘Through the Eyes of an Eagle’ is one of the true highlights, written by Joe and Janette Carter it’s the most haunting track on the record, thanks in part to the mournful cello of Tristan Clarridge and to the delicate simplicity of its execution.

Singing about the universally relevant theme of love and love lost, Brosseau told the San Diego Reader that as a performer, he sees the impact of a good song and the power it holds over the audience, “Carter songs are the embodiment of humanity… songs that, when listened to and when performed, remind us that both good and bad times have happened before, and they’ll happen again.”