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Carsie Blanton Is Delightfully Surprising On 'Buck Up'


This is FRESH AIR. Carsie Blanton is a Virginia-born, New Orleans-based singer-songwriter whose sixth studio album is called "Buck Up." She has named as influences artists a generation older than she is, such as John Prine and Loudon Wainwright. Rock critic Ken Tucker says she lives up to those comparisons.


CARSIE BLANTON: (Singing) That boy wears his clothes too tight. He goes out drinking every night, comes home singing and picking fights. That's a sight to see. That boy...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Like the singer-songwriters she admires, Carsie Blanton is making folk-based music that prizes wordplay and an antic sense of humor. You can hear jazz, Motown and power pop in her melodies and phrasing, which makes her stuff delightfully surprising but doesn't help her in commercial categorization. When I went looking for what's been written about her, I was a little surprised to find that Rolling Stone had tucked her away onto its country music site - not cool. I'd put her on the cover of the print edition.


BLANTON: (Singing) Not going to get out of bed today. I've got my reasons. I don't have to say, yeah. If anybody comes to call, you can tell them I said that I'm not going to get out of bed. Ain't got no money...

TUCKER: Carsie Blanton has a high voice that floats up into curly Qs of pointed pleasure. Her tone never becomes cute because she phrases with such purpose. And what she's talking about is almost always earthy if not downright down and dirty. One song not on this album is a parody she made of the Ed Sheeran song "Love Yourself." I can't say Blanton's title on the radio, but you can find the excellent tune on her YouTube channel. A song that is on her new album is "Jacket," a jaunty road song that takes a detour into something more intimate.


BLANTON: (Singing) I took a good, long drive down the NJ pike. Why you got to be the type of boy I like? And why you act so dumb? - all the books you read. You got a body like that, but you're living in your head. I make a quick pitstop at the Molly Pitcher. You say you got a girl, but I don't see her with you. You say you want a drink, but I want something stiffer. You say I ought to keep it clean. I ain't a Swiffer. Well, I like your shirt. I like your jacket. I like to think about you when I whack it. It doesn't hurt. There's nothing to it. Call me when you've had enough of thinking. Honey, let's do it.

TUCKER: While "Jacket" is an ode to self-pleasure, it's also more complicated than that since, at a certain point, Blanton finds it necessary to point out that while the object of her desire is, quote, "just a Democrat," she defines herself as a revolutionary. For Blanton, the personal is always political. The most obvious case in point is her song "American Kid," in which she muses about the state of the country she worries about handing over to our children.


BLANTON: (Singing) I was once an American kid, growing up on hallowed ground, rode to the river on a pretty red horse in a pretty, little country town. But I grew up fast, and I cast my vote for the president. And I had my doubts, but I still had hope until I read the finer print. Don't look now, but it won't be long. They're going to wonder what we did. And we'll have to admit that we done them wrong. God help the American kid. Oh, God help the American kid.

TUCKER: Carsie Blanton bursts with ideas and opinions. If you go to her website, you'll encounter blog posts from a sex-positive point of view alongside meticulously reasoned pieces about the #MeToo movement in the music industry. "Buck Up" came out in late February. And since that time, I keep coming back to it, finding new things to appreciate about it. "Buck Up" is shaping up to be one of my favorite albums of the year.

GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed Carsie Blanton's latest album "Buck Up." If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like our interview with Frans de Waal about the behavior and emotion of primates and what they tell us about ourselves, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer is Roberta Shorrock. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.


BLANTON: (Singing) Been lying awake and wondering where it all went wrong. We're running in this human race, but the odds are looking long. So I sat beside my hound dog, and I looked into his eyes. I said, what's the use of trying? And to my surprise, he said, buck up, baby. Come on, sic them. Make them laugh if you can't lick them. Keep on shining like you know you should. Keep on shining. That's the way to get them good. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.