Denny Carleton




THIS IS YOUR LIFE CD 2005   by Richie Unterberger
Very few rock musicians have had as long a career as Denny Carleton has by making music so simultaneously accessible and uncommercial. Though his melodies are catchy and his reedy vocals engaging, his songs are nonetheless too quirky and homespun to truly enter the mainstream. Artistically (if not financially), those are attributes rather than drawbacks, and This Is Your Life — another in a long line of self-released efforts — finds his talents undimmed in his mid-'50s. Shades of pop, folk, and even traces of Irish and Celtic music find their way into his brand of rock, straightforward and earnest yet packed with witticisms and eccentricities. Wacky references to popular culture, whimsical nostalgia, and a generally amused joy in the ups and downs of everyday life abound. Carleton also has fun both paying homage to and subverting aspects of his musical heritage. He uses many of the lyrics of Buddy Holly's "Words of Love" in the track of the same name on this disc, for instance, but matching them to an entirely different melody, he changes it to something entirely more contemplative, adult, and melancholic. The record sounds more mundane on paper, perhaps, than it really is; it's a low-key pleasure to be enjoyed by those who like heartfelt music that doesn't feel like it needs to be overtly weird, harsh, or dissonant to be independent of popular trends. The one substantial criticism that could be levied is that the production is sometimes thin and not of the highest standard, though it could also be argued that this lo-fi lack of pretense (with Carleton often playing and singing everything himself) suits the artist's auteurist aesthetic.


WHISKEY ISLAND DENNY CARLETON AMG EXPERT REVIEW: Recorded at Carleton's eight-track home studio (with the exception of the title cut), this disc mines mostly light folk-rock territory. Carleton's compositions explore concerns about the environment, faith, broken romance, and the bewildering confusion engendered by modern times. Sometimes the record is so light that it might be more fairly categorized as folk than rock. Carleton's voice retains its appealing, slightly vibrant, Celtic-tinged quality. His melodies are pleasant, and there are numerous odd twists in his lyrics that you won't find in those by a lot of polite, contemporary folksingers (like the mix of ecology and love in "Environmental Girlfriend"). Also, unlike a lot of folky performers in his position, Carleton resists the always ill-founded strategy of over-production in an effort to capture the adult-contemporary market. There are electric instruments here, but they're played sensitively, as if they were acoustic ones; the percussion and bass are light and sympathetic. So one might ask, Why don't they play this guy on public radio or Prairie Home Companion? Unfortunately, the answer has more to do with circumstance than talent. -- Richie Unterberger