String section 

Tracy Grammer keeps the troubadour dream alive

Tracy Grammer is coming to save you. Armed with a few of the sassier members of the string family, and a voice as nuanced and strong as you could hope for, Grammer delivers the songs of the late Dave Carter with a supernatural force that funnels straight through your ear to the deep, deep center of your heart.

With meticulous rhythm and lyrics as familiar as they are puzzling, these songs have an intellectual and emotional edge that most folk music fails to hone. They tell tales spun from an existential cowboy mindset, rife with the beauty of barren landscapes and an awareness of the yet untravelled miles of the soul. The inherent complexity of this music has its grounding in Carter’s lyrics but is carried to fruition by Grammer’s musicianship.

Grammer and Carter performed together for over four years, racking up praise and accomplishments across the country. They were the number one most-played act on folk radio in 2001 and 2002, and Carter’s masterful lyricism has won numerous songwriting awards. Comparisons to Dylan and a reverence for the duo’s energizing blend of folk, country, blues and rock are ubiquitous in the reviews of their most recent album, Drum Hat Buddha.

Carter, who passed away this past July, grew up in Oklahoma and Texas. His exposure to evangelism, shamanism and academic psychology is apparent in the ecstasy of phrases like “Street poets and vision miners, starry-eyed ambitious/Blew like pilgrim leaves through the sad café.”

These are songs for the wayward traveler, the unrequited lover, and all the lonesome, wind-shaken, comforting places we call home. They’re songs about the regular stuff, rendered in the irregular way each of us experiences the world. Devoid of cliché, yet not obscure, the message Carter imparts is at once thought-provoking and blindly love-struck by life.

Grammer, who is now on her first solo tour, will be playing the troubadour, bringing the true wisdom of the group’s “postmodern mythic American” musical landscape to the Crystal Theatre. As she says of the tour: “I have no choice but to go on singing, and to go on telling our story, on behalf of my brilliant partner, and on behalf of every dreamer who stumbles, as I did, upon a profound calling.”

Born into a musical family, Grammer started her classical study of voice and violin at the age of nine. Despite much early success, her college years marked a departure from music, and it wasn’t until her father introduced her to Curtis Coleman and she was invited to play with him that she reawakened to musical performance. In the following years she became enamored with the process of making and delivering music, discovering “a language like no other; [music] is my channel of authenticity.”

But it wasn’t until seeing Dave Carter perform in 1996 that she found her true musical path. Taken with the compassion and intelligence of his music, she soon found herself recording their first album together in her Portland kitchen, using the linoleum floor to its full acoustic advantage.

Ever since then the results have been beautiful and honest in the way that only a linoleum floor can be. On her current tour, Grammer will be playing songs from the duo’s three albums (When I Go, 1998; Tanglewood Tree, 2000; and Drum Hat Buddha, 2001), as well as previously unrecorded material.

Backed with this unique repertoire, Grammer is sure to shine. In the tune “Disappearing Man,” off Drum Hat Buddha, Grammer opens with a note so clear it makes your stomach drop; you’re on a roller coaster that gives no warning about the depths to which it will fall.

In the Pop-ish “236-6132” Grammer’s voice and instrumental accompaniment bring a new integrity to the telephone number song. Undeterred by an indifferent love and bolstered by a certain swaggering confidence, she croons: “If I was afraid to break or bleed/I would find someone much easier to need/But when drifters’ dreams come true and when push comes ’round to shove/236-6132 is the number of my love.”

As Carter once said, “If I can bring the magic of the deep unconscious into the all-too-predictable realm of the daily grind, well that’s like bringing water into the desert. I need this to live fully; I suspect we all do.” Not only do we need it, but we need it in the refreshing light, musically and lyrically, that the duo has crafted, and will continue to craft through Grammer. The music of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer is a spiritual home, just like their song “Gentle Arms of Eden” describes: “This is my home, this is my only home/This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known/And should I stray in the dark night alone/Rock me goddess in the gentle arms of Eden.”

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