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Musician: Sandy Carroll

Label: Catfood Records

ASIN: is 00261 33482

Keyboardist, singer, and songwriter Sandy Carroll has been a mainstay in the Memphis music scene for decades now. In particular, she began performing in legendary Beale Street clubs before her first album in 1992. Now, her newest collection is her debut on Catfood Records, a label that specializes in roots and blues artists. Of course, “roots music” is an umbrella, catch-all Term that covers everything from acoustic folk to electric blues. Carroll certainly belongs under that umbrella, but she can also be described by what DJ’s used to call “sock and soul music.” That is, her low, dusky voice and musical stylings would have fit perfectly on the old Atlantic or Stax labels when Areatha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding were enjoying their heyday.

The main difference between what we heard in the ‘60s as compared to Carroll’s new set is largely due to her husband, Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Luther Allison). For his wife’s Catfood premiere, Gaines doesn’t bring in brass sections or small orchestras to fill out the sound. In the main, what we get is straight-ahead “Sweet Soul Music.” For example, the album’s good-time opener, “Blessed Be” announces this is indeed a Memphis-based ride with Steve Cropper-ish guitar licks and church choir backing vocals from Reba Russell, “Pie” Hill, Kimberly Helton, and Vicki Atkins. These ladies are an essential part of nearly every track on the album, very reminiscent of the Southern-fried background singing of the Atlantic/Stax era.

Old-fashioned funk shines on “Help Mother Nature,” a wry commentary on cosmetic surgery and other aids for women to improve on what Momma Nature gave them. Then, Carroll and company get down with the blues. Guitarist Evan Leake and Gaines collaborated on “Heartfixin’ Man” where the band of Steve Potts (drums), Dave Smith (bass), and Rick Steff (keyboards) get to rock out on a B. B. King-style groove. One standout is “Waiting for the Storm,” a slow blues featuring organ, fluid guitar lines, and one of Carroll’s most heartfelt vocals. Throughout, her lyrics tend to alternate between talking about young love and the opinions of a lady who’s been there, done all that. For example, “Slow Kisses” is a piano-driven blues number about how young men should “treat your woman right.” The gentle story-telling of “Romeo and Juliet” (with lyrics from Bob Trenchard) is the tale of a love that was never meant to be. “Young love,” Carroll sings, “is always hit or miss.”

From another perspective, the guitars get funky again on “Messin’ with Me,” and this time the lyrics aren’t about being young. Instead, Queen Carroll is warning all comers she’s the Goddess of her turf. The Tex-Mex, New Orleans blend “Baby Comin' Home”   is another tale of a mature woman, this time realizing the grass isn’t any greener beyond her own yard. The beautiful title track closes the album, “Just As I Am,” a simple love song co-written with Luther Allison for her husband. This one is produced simply, with piano, accordion, and guitar and is what “roots” music should mean—a song that defies all categorization.

This album is one that should help Sandy Carroll reach a wider audience outside of her beloved Tennessee. It revisits the flavors of what we loved back in the ‘60s with a contemporary feel. It’s for young girls, old broads, young lovers, and seasoned veterans of where the heart can take us.  

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