What seems like the thousandth moderate-to-high-profile covers album to come along in the past two years, Deana Carter’s The Chain at least has a greater thematic purpose than recent offerings by Joan Osborne, Raul Malo, and Martina McBride. While Carter’s song choices, on first impression, read like a list of obvious modern singer-songwriter standards (“The Weight” is here, as are “Help Me Make it Through the Night” and “Crying”), she chose these 12 songs as a tribute to her father, Fred Carter Jr. Either as a musician, producer, or a label executive, he was involved in the recordings of each of these songs’ most popular versions, and as a testament to his career, The Chain is undeniably an impressive collection.
Unfortunately, it works less well as a new record for his daughter. More than a decade removed from the massive commercial success of her debut, Did I Shave My Legs For This?, Carter truly came into her own on her previous outing, 2005’s exceptional The Story of My Life. Throughout her career, she’s demonstrated with wit, sensitivity, and an instantly recognizable voice that pop-country doesn’t have to be an artistic dead-end, and as a singer, songwriter, and producer, The Story of My Life found Carter at her most adventurous and most compelling. While several of the arrangements on The Chain highlight her keen ear as a producer (most notably, the trippy slow-burn treatment she gives Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and a ribald take on John Anderson’s “Swingin’”), that Carter chose to record over half of these songs with their original artists only reduces the album to a simple compare-and-contrast exercise with her father’s work.
It doesn’t add much to the proceedings, in other words, to hear her duet with George Jones on “He Thinks I Still Care” or with Jessi Colter on “I’m Not Lisa.” With as many misfires (her duet with Harper Simon on Paul Simon’s “The Boxer”) as outright successes (her subtle, melancholy reading of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”), and not exactly working as either a proper duets project of a covers album, The Chain is hamstrung by perhaps too many competing concepts. Carter’s one of her generation’s greatest talents, and her intent with this project is certainly admirable, but The Chain simply doesn’t play to her strengths.