Soon after I became aware of the sparky brilliance of the New Orleans songwriter Carsie Blanton, I sent her one of my novels.
She had announced on social media that she was, for reeasons I couldn’t quite work out, prepared to barter one of her CDs for goods rather money. If you sent her something that was important to you, she would send you a CD.
So I sent off a copy of my 2013 novel The Twyning.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that a 500-page novel set in the gutters of Victorian London and narrated by a rat might not have been quite what Carsie was expecting. I blame her songs – as with many of the best songwriters, her work has a friendly, confiding quality to it. Just as I had warmed to her musical stories of love, lust and politics, i thought she might appreciate the novel that I still think of as a rodent Great Expectations.
I’m not sure she did. When she wrote later about her bartering experiment, she mentioned that someone had even sent her his novel!! There was something about her tone which suggested to me she was less than delighted by my present. I fear that a thoughtfully inscribed copy of The Twyning is now languishing in a New Orleans charity shop.
Carsie Blanton is a funny, reckless songwriter who, at her best, writes brave and brilliant songs about America, politics and sex (not in that order). She has a radical, take-no-prisoners approach to these subjects, and isn’t one for gentle ditties of love and life. Her great song ‘Backbone’ starts:
‘We all know a man can be a delicate thing
He can be soft and sweet like sugar wrapped in butter
And I don’t mind your company but if you wanna make me sing
Keep in mind that I am not your mother.’
The pay-off in the chorus is tough:
‘Show me something I can rely on
Or I would rather be alone
You give your heart but I wanna see your
Although the music is poppy, there’s a sharp wit and intelligence in the lyrics (she writes a great blog called ‘thoughts on love sex, music and ferocity’) and a sense in both the words and the music that Carsie Blanton casts wide for her musical influences. She has done some really good covers of old jazz classics, like the great song from 1928 ‘My Sweet Lorraine’ (another wonderful video of a performance at home) , and she includes names like John Prine, Madeleine Peyroux, Joni Mitchell, Nick Lowe, Ray Charles and Paul Simon among her musical influences.
Unsurprisingly, there is always in her songs that wonderful, loose, jazzy influence that New Orleans musicians seem to absorb osmotically.
My Carsie Blanton Friday Song is sweeter and sunnier than many of her songs (like this one written on the night of the last presidential election). It’s the the perfect summertime song, with zing in the lyrics, an irresistible swing and a great arrangement that combines pop with trad jazz.
‘He got a frame like a busted bike
He got a face that nobody likes to see
Nobody but me
He got a thing or two to learn about love
He act like he ain’t never heard of romance
So why’d I give him a chance?
My baby can dance…’
I hope and trust that Carsie Blanton will go on writing defiantly original and personal songs about her life in our turbulent world. She’s a great songwriting talent.
If she plays her cards right, I might even send her another novel.