CEDAR RAPIDS — Tracy Grammer has been a frequent visitor to CSPS over the years, and has gathered a loyal following.
Her latest CD, “Little Blue Egg,” is doing well. Grammer has a strong alto voice and terrific way with a steel guitar. She is also a very generous performer, offering a 2 1/2 hour, 17-song concert Thursday night (3/14/13).
Her performance is abundantly full of stories of her life and the songs that have resulted from her relationship with singer-songwriter Dave Carter, who died in 2002.
Grammer describes her work as “post-modern, straight-ahead folk music.” And contemporary it is. In “Ordinary Town,” a Carter song from 2001, he writes of “common cool, he was a proud young fool in a kick-ass Wal-Mart tie/rippin down the main drag, tripping on the headlights rollin by.” Good stuff that at times is reminiscent of Bob Dylan.
Grammer describes Carter’s trip to Nashville to make it as a songwriter. He was admired by record producers but rejected for having “too many words,” some of them “polysyllabic.” Carter’s vision of the idyllic life — living in a double-wide trailer in the desert with a long driveway and a big mail box, to which the royalty checks would come every day — was dashed. But he kept on writing, developing his densely textured songs, and remains an acute observer of the American scene.
Tracy Grammer makes you want to listen to every word of every song, with her clear, strong, committed voice, and the intelligence which she brings to each song. There is a sense of integrity and caring about her work, not only with her late partner, but with those with whom she has worked, including Mary Chapen Carpenter and Joan Baez.
The audience’s attention was complete, aided by the attractive acoustics and the familial intimacy of the CSPS Hall. It had a nightclub feel to it, with tables and chairs down front, bottles of beer and glasses of red wine.
My favorite Carter song is is “Gun Metal Eyes,” which describes the fight for the land of a Seminole/Cherokee man: “man, there was some kind of righteous in his gun metal eyes.” The chorus really works: ” Run with the wolf/fly like the dove. Mother below/father above. Weep with the earth/sing to the sky. In the steel of your gun metal eyes.” Powerful, direct, melodic. Folkie Grammer could be a country or rock singer — she certainly has the voice for it.
The evening ended with “The Verdant Mile,” written by Grammer and her current musical partner, Jim Henry. It describes the “bliss of grief,” and how she been able to live with the absence of Dave Carter, as well as other loved ones: “I miss you like I love the sound of blackbirds in the trees … and so I walk this verdant mile of memory with you/the gentle arms of Eden and the mountain get me through.”
The connection with the earth and the honoring of its inhabitants, is all-pervasive for both Grammer and Carter. No wonder they are so celebrated in the folk music world.