“A singular talent poised on the edge of a deserved commercial breakthrough.” -- SMH
“Lo Carmen reaches the parts other songwriters can’t touch.... I put her on the same pedestal as Kris Kristofferson, Tom T., or Merle Haggard.” Something You Said
Change and transition are essential elements where life’s journey is concerned. It’s the gathering of experience and lessons learned on the way that inform the journey and create the trajectory that defines one’s enlightenment and awareness.
For an artist like Lo Carmen, it’s also been the basis of a prolific career, one that’s taken her from Australia across the world to rural Georgia, and then across a continent to Los Angeles, and finally back in the opposite direction to Nashville, where she recorded her new album, the aptly named Lovers Dreamers Fighters. A collection of songs that sum up her hopes and desires as a singer and songwriter, it assures her own niche in the Americana firmament. With its low-cast radiance and effervescent sheen, the music expresses a sense of wanderlust, of restlessness, a defining vision of romance that’s both assertive and eternal.
“I was fightin’ the feeling that I could fly,” she sings on the vulnerable yet evocative “The Last “Thing I Remember.” “I’m guessin’ it ain’t hard to work out why.”
Indeed, Lo Carmen’s way with words, her gilded vocals and poetic candor deftly describe her singular stance. Lovers Dreamers Fighters, her sixth solo album to date, demonstrates her unique ability to combine poignancy and purpose, urgency and emotion in ways that elevate her to a higher plateau. Recorded in Nashville at The Butcher Shoppe and Welcome to 1979 Studios, and released on vinyl and digital platforms through Chiquita Records, its songs originated when she put pen to paper alone at night on the porch of a house she occupied in a lonely expanse of rural Georgia.
“I wanted to make an album that came from a very true place, that explored all the shades of love,” she reflects. “I wanted it to sound like the albums that I always want to play -- loose and warm and full of lyrics that make you feel something, cloaked in textures that take your breath away. Love has so many permutations, it’s so wrapped up in dreams and philosophies and fears and desires, and it seemed worth dedicating an album to examine the full extent of those emotions. I like that idea that songs give comfort, set a mood, provide some kind of service or offer a portal to a place where you want to go.”
Clearly, she’s succeeded. Self produced, engineered by Dave “Ferg” Ferguson, known for his work with Sturgill Simpson, Johnny Cash, and Jake Bugg, and featuring contributions from many of Nashville’s musical elite -- bassist Dave Roe (Johnny Cash, Nikki Lane, Dan Auerbach), drummer Paul Griffith (Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Tony Joe White), and pedal steel player Russ Pahl (Sara Watkins, Lana Del Rey, Kacey Musgraves), among them -- the songs soar and sway, evoking a kind of aural intimacy and sublime satisfaction, emotions filtered through resilience and determination.
“Devil got a hold of me,” she croons ever so sweetly on the telling “I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell.” “Shook me out hung me from a tree/I’m not the girl I planned to be.”
Those confessionary tones pervade the album as a whole, from the emotive strains of the tellingly titled “Sometimes It’s Hard,” a winsome duet with special guest Bonnie Prince Billy, to the dreamy melodies of “Hold Your Lover Close,” “You Never Learned How To Dance” and the pensive title track, all of which find her hushed, haunting vocals gently entwined with the silken strains of pedal steel guitar. Likewise, the gentle caress of “Put Another Record On” evokes a soulful sway of classic pop proportions. Rarely has an artist managed to effectively evoke such tender tones in such a subtle yet assured fashion.
“Moving to the other side of the world, away from everyone I knew and loved, and distractions and gigging, meant that the songs came from a very pure, private place,” she suggests. “Isolation sets productivity and focus on fire! And it made me realize that I don’t really require a lot from this life besides a pen and paper and an old guitar. I’m pretty self sufficient.”
Indeed, it’s little wonder. Making music that’s both expressive and engaging has always been at the very essence of Lo Carmen’s artistic MO. Growing up in Adelaide Australia during the heady days of the early ‘70s, she was raised in a family that nurtured her appreciation for making music. Her father, Peter Head, is a renowned singer, songwriter and piano player who spearheaded progressive rockers Headband (a band that toured with the Rolling Stones and Elton John) and country rock insurgents the Mount Lofty Rangers, as well as entertaining audiences solo in bars and honkytonks.
“I was surrounded by musicians growing up,” Carmen recalls. “Writing, performing and recording songs was what everyone lived for, and its always made sense to me to follow that path. The pursuit of a great song always seemed like an important and valuable thing. My dad would give me songwriting tips when I was a little girl, and typing up his big folder of lyrics that would get stained and wrecked at the piano bars where he performed, was a task I loved to do. I became totally fascinated and perplexed by those lyrics even as I typed them.”
In addition, early on she drew her influences from the artists whose records filled her family’s record collection. “I still listen to all the music I grew up on, mainly Dylan, Stones, Linda Rondstadt, Kris Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Etta James,” she explains. “I got deeply into the Holy Trinity of Dolly, Tammy and Loretta as a teenager and they really are the gift that keeps on giving … I was always very inspired by Dolly as a songwriter, especially after reading that she loved to go sit in a field at 5 am and write a song before breakfast. I like the pictures Bobbie Gentry paints with her songs, that sense of place she conjures is so palpable,and she can just drop you right in the middle of a story. Tony Joe White too. Southern songwriters have always been my main inspiration.”
She made her performing debut at a New Year’s Eve party at age ten, singing a song she had composed earlier that afternoon. After acting in films as a teenager, she subsequently turned to music full time, initiating her recording career in 2002. Since then, she has since released a string of critically acclaimed solo albums -- Everyone You Ever Knew (Is Coming Back To Haunt You) (2015), The Peach State (2013), It Walks Like Love (2009), Rock’n’Roll Tears (2007), Slight Delay (2004), and Born Funky Born Free (2002) -- as well as a 2013 collaboration with her father, fittingly entitled The Apple Don’t Fall Far From The Tree. Forming her first band, the Honky Tonk Angels, at age 20, she went on to work with musicians from many of Australia’s most acclaimed combos – the Holy Soul, the Mess Hall, the Dirty Three, The Bad Seeds and The Cruel Sea, sharing the bills with a diverse array of artists (Mick Harvey, Secret Sisters, Handsome Family, Kinky Friedman, The Drones, Beasts of Bourbon), touring throughout Europe, Australia and The U.S. Yet, when she occupies a stage all on her own, the effect is always mesmerizing and completely captivating.
It’s little wonder then that Clash Magazine described her as “divine… a real charmer… soaked in experience, in the kind of poetry that only comes from a life lived,” or that Glide magazine said of her sound, “Sultry vintage soul and cosmic country sounds …Carmen is simultaneously reflective and a storyteller … gorgeous twangy pedal steel, sensual vocals, haunting guitar and harmonies.” Global Texan Chronicles proclaimed, “Lo Carmen is undoubtedly one of the unique voices in old-school honky-tonk working today. Landing places between Tammy Wynette and Sam Cooke.”
Then again, Atwood magazine may have summed her up best: “It’s exactly this raw, unabashedly authentic quality that gives Lo Carmen her allure: She taps into a universal truth to which we can all relate, exposing our most vulnerable parts....that’s the power of music and the magic of Lo Carmen.”