By Dave Hoffenberg
About three years ago I started this article and my first ever interview was with Duane Carleton. That’s about how long the process was for Carleton in making his latest album, “A Girl Like That.” I got to speak to the Local Legend about the making of this album and then had the honor of reviewing it.
“My goal was to try and take everything up a notch as far as the song writing, the playing, the production and my singing,” Carleton said. “I really wanted to take everything to a different level. I also felt that I hit a point artistically where things were really coming together. Things that had been in development over my career started to develop into what my musical concept is. I really wanted to take the musicality up a notch or two.”
Carleton incorporated many local musicians in this recent album. For example, Pickle Barrel bartender Brittany Schuessler was his cover girl. Carleton said Schuessler was great and a natural. You can easily recognize Schuessler on the back cover but I was surprised to learn it was her on the front cover, too. The two shots are polar opposites of each other. Carleton wanted people to think about it. Is it yin and yang? Is it before and after? Is it alter egos? You can decide.
Carleton said the covers are a political statement of their own. He said these days people are either extreme conservatives or extremely liberal. You’re either one or the other, there’s no middle ground and that is what he did here.
Former local photographer Vyto Starinskas shot the front and back covers. About two summers ago, I was there for the early planning stage of selecting the cover girl and what concept to use. Certain things on the record were balancing karma to him like how Carleton ran into Starinskas at Walgreens and they got to talking. Soon after Carleton learned Starinskas was moving away. Carleton knew that it was meant to be to have him help out.
Carleton said, “He’s a great photographer and he loves rock ‘n’ roll. To have worked with Vyto artistically is a great privilege on my part. He actually came up with the idea to use a girl on the cover. I was going to go in a dark direction but Vyto said using a girl on the cover is inviting and gets people to want to listen to your record.”
Carleton agreed, deferring to Starinskas’s expertise. Karr Group Creative Director Jess Gabeler did the album artwork and inside cover photography.
“Jess did a phenomenal job on the graphic design and did the photography on the disc itself. The inside cover made me think of the last supper,” said Carleton confirming that that was his idea. There are many things to make you wonder, like the eggs — there are glasses of eggs in every scene. Carleton said if you can figure out what it means then good for you. I couldn’t and he wouldn’t tell me.
Jax bartender Leslie Myers Patenaude makes her singing debut with a couple guest vocal spots on the albumn. Carleton has been working with Patenaude for many years now at Jax on Sunday nights. Patenaude kicks off the album with a very convincing “Listen” shout out. Carleton said the reason he picked Patenaude was at the end of his shifts on Sunday, she would have to get people to leave. Carleton said, “It gets to the end of the night and here’s this tiny person with a big voice saying ‘it’s time to go.’ I thought that would be great at the beginning of the record kind of like a joke… There are times as a musician that you feel that nobody is paying attention or listening to you, like I’m being ignored. I thought how funny is it that the first thing you hear is someone shouting listen. And not only that but that particular song, ‘A Girl Like That’, is a political song. There’s a political message there and it’s specifically aimed at one particular political personality. That seems to be the nature of the political world now, that whole listen to me. Whether what you’re saying is legitimate or not.”
The album is dedicated to the memory of Chris Franco who was a long time Killington friend of Carleton’s and friend of us all. Not many people know this but Franco did some back-up harmonies on an earlier album of Carleton’s. “I love the guy and I felt it was totally appropriate to dedicate this to him.”
In addition to those already mentioned, Carleton employs an all-star cast of musicians including: Jeff Poremski (Bass) and Jerry Dubeau (Keyboards) from his band The Backwood Messiahs; Tim Lynch (Keyboards) and Bob Boyer (Drums, Vocals, Bass) who also helped produce it; Georgia Jones (Vocals); Brian Melick (Percussion); and Russ Lawton (Drums).
Carleton is very pleased with the record. Some tracks that stand out to him are “Keep on Moving,” which he says is a good representative for the record, “Killing Time” is a nod to Shawn McKeag, Carleton likes the play on words, “Blood in the water,” which was inspired by Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy.
Carleton writes all the lyrics and then pieces together a verse, a riff, the chorus. Since Carleton blew the speakers in his car, he uses that time to work through things in his head. To some degree Carleton is responsible creatively for everything you hear on this album. He did a rough demo of all the songs himself, playing guitar, singing and doing that with a drum machine to get a feel for it.
“I have a fairly good idea of how I want the song to sound,” he said. “Tim, Bob and I click together well … we all have different areas of expertise. I’m always willing to try different things,” he added. “A good example is in the song ‘Keep on Moving,’ there is a breakdown in the middle where you hear the clinking of glasses. That was Georgia’s idea to have it sound like there was a party going on. So we did it. It totally worked.”
This is my favorite album to date of Carleton’s. It’s been in my CD player ever since I got it, playing it over and over. I only took it out to review it.
Track 1 is the title track and right off the bat you get this great melody and a great story. Carleton’s songs are stories and this song is evident of that. You can feel what he’s talking about. The song has a good vibe.
Track 2 “Keep on moving” is by far my favorite track. You have great harmonies and a great message: Keep on moving no matter what gets you down. That song will definitely not get you down. It will get you up and moving and grooving. I love the piano solo, it reminded me of The Radiators and has the New Orleans style to it.
Track 3 “I won’t let Sunday” is a funny title to me because it says I won’t let Sunday bring me down yet Carleton plays every Sunday at Jax and that’s the last thing he’s doing is bringing people down. Lots of people look forward to those Sundays. The song is a mellow groove and Georgia’s back-up vocals and harmonies are so big in it. She’s a huge force in this album.
Track 4 “Out in the wilderness” starts with a different sounding Carleton, maybe with a different mic but it really grabs you. It starts out mellow and then in the middle of the song it’s like bam there’s that guitar solo, it’s really cool. It’s ripping but like a mellow rip. Then goes back to the chorus and then in the end it says I want you to hear me and fades out on the word ‘me’ for ever. There’s no other band out there that sounds like Carleton’s band here.
Track 5 “18 Years (and a moment)” is an uplifting song. It’s really catchy.
Track 6 “Going Hollywood” is a rocking tune. Georgia is back with the harmonies and backing vocals and there’s a couple guitar solos in there. I love it.
Track 7 “Killing time” is definitely a favorite of mine. The song starts off with a little percussion and drums which are very evident in this song. It’s got an infectious groove and melody. It’s an instrumental. I love a good jam but this isn’t a good jam, it’s a great jam. It’s got everything in there with a little Phish feel and then gets into a Meters feel because it starts funking up. I didn’t want this song to end. It’s got great guitar solos but keeps coming back to that great original melody.
Track 8 “Love and nothing” is a mellow song with a good message. It says a little bit of love and nothing gets you by. This song has a lot of love to it.
Track 9 “Right before your eyes” has another great lyric which says “There must be something better and maybe it’s right before your eyes.” I’ll tell you what should be right before your eyes and that is this album. There’s nothing better to me right now. This song is so Carleton and what I’ve been seeing of him for years. It’s just mostly him singing, no harmonies which sounds great.
Track 10 “Blood in the water” gets back to the roots of this album. It’s got great everything, message, melodies, lyrics and harmonies. It’s a powerful song. Georgia is back and sounds incredible as always. The album ends with a soulful groove, ‘let’s hold on’.
There’s mellow songs on this album but mellow here for me is I want to just chill and crank it up. They say to shop local and buy local. Well Carleton did that on this album. He’s got a bunch of locals involved and he dedicated it to one of my favorite locals, the late great Chris Franco. It makes me think of him on that last song because it says “Let’s hold on to each other to make it through the night.” Everything about this album I like. It starts with Leslie saying “Listen” and you’re going to and you’ll probably listen to it over and over like me. It has rock, jam, soulful grooves and great melodies. Carleton said he was really happy with everyone on this and man does it show. It’s a great album