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This article was prepared for the October 10, 2001 edition

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Carter & Grammer’s Prophetic Verses

For Dave Carter, songwriting isn’t just the practical

application of putting lyrics down on a piece of paper and coming

up with a catchy tune. It means getting closer to the cosmos. "My

approach to songwriting is essentially shamanic," he says. "I

try to tap into a kind of liquid aquifer that flows beneath the

bedrock

of everyday life. If I can bring the magic of the deep unconscious

into the all-too-predictable realm of the daily grind, that’s like

bringing water into the desert."

Despite the fact that Carter has been called the "Carlos Castaneda

of music" and "a wandering cowboy sage," and claims that

he gets most of his song ideas while dreaming, Carter is not as

"New

Agey" as he might seem. A look at the quality of some of his

lyrics

is proof enough.

In the song "Ordinary Town," from Carter and Grammer’s new

album "Drum Hat Buddha," he sings:

"Raised on hunches and junk food lunches and punch-drunk

ballroom steps you get to believin’ you’re even-steven with the kids

at fast-track prep so you dump your bucks on a velvet tux and you

run to join the dance but your holy shows and the romans know you’re

just a child of circumstance ’cause this is an ordinary town and the

prophet has no face."

Dave Carter is the songwriting half of the Dave Carter and Tracy

Grammer partnership. He also sings and plays guitar and banjo. Grammer

adds her gentle, honey-like vocals, wily violin and mandolin playing,

and a dash or two of sex appeal to the duo.

Despite having only performed together since 1998, "Drum Hat

Buddha"

is Carter and Grammer’s third album, and they have become one of the

hottest acts on the folk music circuit. They return to the area on

Saturday, October 13, for a Concerts at the Crossing show at the

Unitarian

Universalist Church at Washington Crossing in Titusville.

Although they shy away from labeling their music as folk, preferring

to call it "Postmodern Mythic American Music," Carter’s

songwriting

has been compared to that of Bob Dylan and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Carter

and Grammer share lead vocal duties, and Carter’s Texas-twanged

singing

voice is a nice counterpoint to the lilting countrifications of his

partner, Grammer.

Since the release of their second album "Tanglewood Tree"

in 2000 they have garnered a host of awards, rave reviews, devoted

fans and radio airplay all across the country. Listeners of

Philadelphia’s

WXPN Radio voted "Tanglewood Tree" as the #14 CD on their

year end top 50 list last December.

"A lot of the ideas for my songs come to me in dreams," says

Carter in a phone interview from a hotel room in Ithaca, NY. "Or

if they don’t come in dreams they come in an almost dream-like state.

Tracy and I travel a lot, so a lot of my song ideas come when she’s

on the driving shift and I’m kind of drifting away in the passenger

seat. What happens is it’s kind of like being struck by lightning.

I get a fundamental idea of what the song is about, some of the music,

and at least one of the key lines lyrically. It just hits me like

a flash."

Still, life on the road is not particularly conducive to creativity

and Carter finds that he is a more prolific songwriter when he and

Grammer are at home in Portland, Oregon. "I’m happiest when we’re

living a somewhat natural life and we’re at home and not on the

road,"

he says. "That’s when I really cultivate this shamanistic mindset,

where I’m walking with one foot in the everyday world and one foot

in the dream world all the time. At those times I’m always living,

at least a little bit, in that realm from which the ideas for the

songs spring."

But it is after he is initially struck by the lightning

bolt of creativity that the real work of crafting a song begins for

Carter. "Then I have to work the song out organically from the

fundamental cell that I got in the dream," he says.

"Songwriting

is usually a give and take process. Sometimes the music comes ahead

of the lyrics, or the other way around. The way I find most pleasant

is when the music comes first."

For Carter, finding the music for a song is much easier than the

lyrics.

"Words by their nature are more exact. I think in the forest of

lyrics there are more traps and pitfalls that pull the critical mind,

you might say, out of its cave. If I’m playing music I can go into

a kind of trance that makes my mind more pliable and more willing

to come out with things. Then later on I go back and edit it."

Carter writes all the duo’s songs, but it is not for lack of trying

on Grammer’s part. "I’d love to write songs." says Grammer.

"Poetry is really more a forte of mine than songwriting. I just

haven’t been able to meld words and music yet. I try, I get a good

start, but I never get to the finish line."

Although Grammer doesn’t write the songs, she certainly plays a strong

part in developing them. "I try to stay out of Dave’s creative

process when he’s just beginning a song," explains Grammer.

"You

don’t want the critic in you coming out too early, because it kills

the energy in it somehow. But I’m an editor by nature and a person

with an opinion about everything, so I do make suggestions. I fine

tune things, like tempo and when it comes to the producing and

arranging

of songs, I have a big voice in that."

"Tracy is the natural performer," says Carter. "She loves

to perform. I write a song, but don’t find it really essential to

perform it. I really see myself as a writer. I enjoy performing too

and I feel very good about it sometimes, but when we’re on stage and

I look over at Tracy, I can tell that she is really, really

there."

Carter met Grammer in 1996 after a performance in Portland. Within

weeks they were working up new material with a band. They recorded

their first album "When I Go" in the summer of 1998 in the

kitchen of her apartment.

Grammer, born in Florida and raised in Southern California, grew up

in a musical family. Although her parents earned their living by

owning

a business, music dominated the household. Her mother played accordion

and her father played steel and electric guitars. At the age of nine

she began studying classical violin, playing in regional and school

orchestras. She went on to study English literature and anthropology

at the University of California, Berkeley.

Carter was raised in rural Texas and Oklahoma. His father was an

engineer

and mathematician and his mother was a charismatic Christian prone

to visions and states of ecstasy. He has hitchhiked cross country

toting his guitar, played in piano bars and psychedelic rock bands,

and studied at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in San

Francisco.

During the past six months, Carter and Grammer have been on the road

almost continuously. "I think we’ve been off the road for about

20 days in that time," says Carter. "And it’s going to be

pretty much like that until the beginning of the new year. We’d

decided

that this was going to be the year that we were really going to hit

that road and that’s what we’ve done."

After a brief respite for the holidays, they will tour with Joan Baez

beginning in February. "We were supposed to tour with Joan last

February, but Joan’s sister Mimi Farina was so sick that she didn’t

feel comfortable leaving her. Of course we totally understood,"

says Grammer. (Farina has since died.) "So we put it off for a

year."

Although life on the road may seem endless, Carter and Grammer are

both looking forward to making music together for many years.

Unobtrusively

tucked away on Carter and Grammer’s last two album covers are the

words, "By this merit may all beings swiftly realize

omniscience."

That’s Dave’s contribution," explains Grammer. "It’s a Tibetan

blessing. It wasn’t on `When I Go,’ but we’ll put it on the reprint.

We’ll have that on every album we do together, I’m sure."

— Jack Florek

Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, Concerts at the

Crossing,

Unitarian Church at Washington Crossing, Titusville, 609-406-1803.

Opening is Mark Erelli with songs from his CD, "Compass and

Companion."

$15. Saturday, October 13, 8 p.m.


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