Deana Carter

Southern Way of Life

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Nearly ten years separate Southern Way of Life and 2005's The Story of My Life, Deana Carter's last collection of original material. If the titles seem similar, that's intentional: both are pseudo-autobiographical albums containing songs that tap into her upbringing. Carter hasn't been entirely quiet in the decade between The Story of My Life and Southern Way of Life -- she released the covers album The Chain in 2007, then had considerable success as a songwriter when her "You and Tequlia" turned into a hit for Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter in 2011 -- but it's possible to hear the passage of time on the 2013 album, particularly in how the songwriting has deepened and how the performance has relaxed. Often, Carter's gentle touch has belied her sturdy song construction -- she makes it seem easy -- and that's also true here, where the melodies and her delivery are gentle and insinuating. That's what makes the production -- which surprisingly borrows quite heavily from early-'80s new wave crossover pop, so much so that it sometimes sounds like a deliberate throwback to the golden age of Carlene Carter (especially on the opening "You Can't Stay") -- such a treat. Certainly, she hasn't abandoned the decorous acoustics that have been a trademark since "Strawberry Wine," but she's expanded her palette, so this swings between quietly propulsive pop and songs so sweet they're nearly spacy ("I Don't Want To"). This is the work of an artist comfortable in her skin and it's a pleasure to hear her trying something new while staying true to her own voice.

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