Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., April 5, 2013
Bill CarterUnknown (Unison Music Group)
Songwriting mercenary Bill Carter takes both names and prisoners on Unknown. Three decades of Austin-centric compositions in league with his wife, Ruth Ellsworth, cements to his resume covers by Waylon Jennings, Ruth Brown, and most famously, Stevie Ray Vaughan ("Crossfire," "Willie the Wimp"). On a rare disc of his own, Carter drops yet more names, namely streetwalker "Eva Bible" and the "Devil in Evilin." An expert weave of folk and blues led by Carter's expressive tenor – think a down-range Jimmy LaFave ("Final Sacrifice") – Unknown rocks its rich Southern rock Dylanesque, layered in guitars alongside a voice of rhyme, reason, and outrage ("Deep Soul Sermon"). Opener "Fire on the Wire" pulses with a roots-hewn Dire Straits fluidity underscored by Randy Weeks' slide guitar, plus a lyric equally lubricated by a silk-tongued trickster ("I can't find a drink of water standing in the pouring rain"). Mumfordians will recognize the rolling collusion of Carter's mandolin and shoefly fiddle from Terry Allen cohort Richard Bowden on "Revelry," while the state of the great new American songbook, "Amerijuana" ("I smoke marijuana, play Americana"), plays for a belly laugh. Heartfelt centerpiece "Anything Made of Paper," written for the West of Memphis documentary and included on its soundtrack, boils down incarceration to a heartbreaking detail. That's the tune someone's probably covering at this very moment.