After the success of her critically-acclaimed 2021 release Daddy’ s Country Gold, Melissa Carper, dubbed “HillBillie Holiday” by friend and collaborator Chris Scruggs, was eager to get back in the studio. With co-producers Andrija Tokic (St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Hurray For The Riff Raff) and Dennis Crouch (The Time Jumpers) behind the boards again at Tokic’s analog paradise The Bomb Shelter in Nashville, Carper assembled that same crew of magical music makers — plus a few more — to embark on her newest effort, Ramblin’ Soul, set for release November 18th via Thirty Tigers.
Carper’s deep, old-timey music roots were firmly planted as a child, playing upright bass and singing in her family’s traveling country band in rural Nebraska. Her love of country classics was cultivated as she laid beneath the console listening to her parents’ record collection. Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, and more became the soundtrack of her youth. When Carper’s father gifted her a collection of Jimmie Rodgers’ recordings, she began to find her voice and calling as a songwriter.
Carper attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on a music scholarship, and spent much of her time in the music library, instinctively drawn to the great jazz classics and jazz vocalists such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole. She also discovered Lead Belly, uncovering a deep well within when singing his songs. Carper stands firmly on the shoulders of American ramblers, crooners, and songsters — the building blocks of her musical foundation.
After two years of college, wanderlust set in, and Carper hit the road in the family’s 1980 Dodge Maxi Van, and landed in historic Eureka Springs, Arkansas. There, she was welcomed into the busking community, and found a new home base — a place to write, reflect, and rejuvenate in years to come. As she belted out the lyrics to “Ramblin’ Man” life began to imitate art. Carper put a few hundred thousand miles on her vans and pick-up trucks, playing the streets and clubs of New Orleans, Austin, and even a stint in NYC as a founding member of The Maybelles. Magnetically pulled into the cultural heritage wherever she went, she immersed herself in the music of those who sang on those same street corners, and off the beaten path in times gone by.
Along the way, she founded award-winning bands like power trio The Carper Family, the perfect outlet for her unique skills and style. The band brought her original work to life in a simple yet dynamic fashion that also served her inspirations — country, bluegrass, western swing, and old-style jazz, playing festivals and shows across the globe, and on shows like “A Prairie Home Companion.” Carper also holds a spot in award-winning Arkansas foursome Sad Daddy, and founded roots duo Buffalo Gals with Sad Daddy bandmate and partner, award-winning fiddler Rebecca Patek.
In 2020, grappling with the loss of regular gigs, Carper and Patek moved to a friend’s farm near Austin, working in exchange for housing, organic vegetables, and fresh, country air. The simpler life afforded Carper the space and rejuvenation needed to channel her muse, and begin writing for her next album.
“I had a handful of songs about rambling around and living a free life that I wanted to weave through the album,” Carper recalls. “I wrote the title track driving back home to Texas, and it felt like the seeds of the next album were planted. I also knew I wanted Ramblin’ Soul to have a different feel than Daddy’s Country Gold, with more upbeat and diverse styles and grooves.”
Ramblin’ Soul features a co-write with life long ramblin’ buddy and bandmate Gina Gallina, a song penned by friend and frequent collaborator Brennen Leigh; a reimagined classic from folk pioneer Odetta; and ten Carper originals. The album ventures into blues, early rock and roll, and old school soul, along with Carper’s signature styles of country, western swing, and jazz.
Album track “Ain’t a Day Goes By” breaks your heart, then mends it again in the universal longing for a loved one now gone on. Backed up by Hammond B3 organ (John Pahmer), the emotion is punctuated by the gospel-style harmony stylings of Kyshona Armstrong, Nickie Conley, and Maureen Murphy. “1980 Dodge Van” heralds pulsing electric guitar and a grooving upright bass (Dennis Crouch) in an ode to the loyal family vehicle, while “I Don’t Need to Cry” is a Patsy Cline-esque lament showcasing Carper’s classic country range and songwriting finesse. The upbeat, tongue-in-cheek “Holding All The Cards” transports us to a smoky New Orleans speakeasy, with wordplay, honky tonk piano, and playful clarinet, while Carper pays an upbeat western swing tribute to her current home state in “Texas, Texas. Texas.”
Carper’s lifelong, steadfast listening has come to fruition in the songs on Ramblin’ Soul. Her childhood love of the family record collection planted the seeds of what is her own bountiful orchard today.
Not unlike Loretta Lynn, Melissa Carper is giving us scenes and stories and vignettes that kind of play out between home and the honky-tonk – NPR”
Melissa Carper is one of the greatest classic golden era country singers and composers of this generation. A new batch of songs from Melissa Carper is something to smile and rub your hands together about like waiting for permission to cut into an apple pie. – Saving Country Music
Singer-bassist Melissa Carper sounds like a voice from a bygone era…Evoking the cool, smoky croon of a lounge singer, Carper gives some winking commentary about having a good time. – Rolling Stone Country
It’s a tricky thing that Carper has done. She clearly revels in recreating the music of her heroes, carefully preserving the sense of romance and immediacy of the old classics. Yet by bringing her own experiences into the canon, she is unearthing a history that includes so many more of us, finally allowed to speak out through memories forgotten due to silence and taboo. – No Depression
Kassi Valazza has a viscous, light gold voice. It swirls around in your head like whiskey in a snifter; vaporous, and intoxicating. For most of her album Dear Dead Days pedal steel and electric guitar lope along at half time, the in-pocket rhythm section booming from deep in the low end. Its frequencies penetrate your flesh. The songs reverberate off your bones. Her lyrics drip down the inside of your skull. Musicians with Southwest origins dependably bring a languorous relaxation – the slow pace, a defense against the oppressive heat of the high desert– and a grim sense of gravitas, having walked among the bleached bones and arid landscapes. At times Valazza sings as if her lyrics are smoke she’s exhaling. You get the hint: Valazza is pretty goddamn good at writing a sad song –but there’s another element, a painted desert, coloured canyon walls at sunset, endless sky vision. Kassi will be your peyote coyote; a guide through these psychedelic vistas. Here she’s found a way to trap the world of cheaters, drifters, lovers and leavers in amber. Wander from your own woes, and come walk with Valazza’s.
I started playing the harmonica in the early 90’s as a boredom cure for down times working on commercial fishing boats. There were, and probably still are, a lot of commercial fisherman in Alaska that are musicians; a lot of which were adherents to Old-Time and Bluegrass traditions, but not all by any means. Melody driven fiddle tunes were my gateway to locking down melodies on the harmonica and eventually led to the formation of the first working band I got to be a part of. Good ol’ PCRB, the Panhandle Crabgrass Revival Band. We made two records and and toured extensively all over Alaska and down the West Coast, playing many dive bars and festivals including Wintergrass, the Portland Old-Time Gathering and the San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time Festival.
In 2007, I won an Individual Artists award from the Rasmussen Foundation which allowed me to record my first solo project “TROUBLE”, available for streaming and for sale on the MUSIC page of this site.
Since then, I’ve had the sheer luck to perform and record with more bands than I can list. Some of these bands are still working, some defunct, some literally dead. When I moved to Texas in ’09, I had the great honor to work with some of my heroes including the late James “Slim” Hand, and Wayne “the Train” Hancock.
In ’09, the Austin Steamers were formed and had a lot of success and fun, playing at SXSW, a Mountain Song at Sea Bluegrass Cruise, Stubb’s Barbeque, as well as long (2 year +) weekly residencies at the legendary Hole in the Wall and White Horse in Austin. We played many festivals in central Texas and were featured in Richard Linklater’s Golden Globe winning and Oscar nominated movie “Boyhood” (playing my song the Old Black Crow) as well as more venues in Austin than I can hope to remember. I also recorded the “Steamroller Sessions Vol. I” around this time and which is available to stream and for sale in digital and (Double 7”) vinyl formats.
I’ve been most recently working with Hillfolk Noir out of Boise Idaho and will link recordings I’ve made with them as they are released. I got lucky to get adopted by them and have toured all over the west with them, sometimes opening solo. Check out their label, “Junkerdash Records” for which I’ve written an article in their ‘zine and is on the blog page for your reading.