“Dirt Around the Tree”
Candi Carpenter featuring Brandi Carlile
Written by Candi Carpenter, Alden Witt, Amanda McCoy, and Jake Clayton
Five years ago, Candi Carpenter took the country music industry by surprise with an excellent cheating song called “Burn the Bed.” I say “surprise” rather than “storm” because, sadly, the single only barely scraped the charts and has been essentially wiped away from existence ever since. What should have made for a fruitful mainstream country career for Carpenter only earned her noticeable critical buzz instead.
Which, hey, is all that matters around these parts, and considering she made her Grand Ole Opry debut a few years ago and once was a housekeeper for Little Jimmy Dickens, it’s not like the journey has been bad, per se. As a fan, though, it still stings, especially when Carpenter has released a few scattered singles over the years since that have been just as good as “Burn the Bed,” if not better. And considering she’s got an upcoming EP produced by Brandi Carlile and another side project involving Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit Band, now is as good a time as any to either meet or get reacquainted with her.
“Dirt Around the Tree” is the supposed first taste of the former project, and likely her most gorgeous-sounding tune yet. I could award style points alone on how warm and well-balanced the fiddle, piano and acoustics are as they shine through, and granted, this song earns them. But I appreciate more that this song is bolstered by its terrific mandolin work, working to capture a mood that’s equally as optimistic for what’s ahead as it is afraid of a dark past best left behind. It’s quaint in the sense that Carpenter’s lived-in tone is at the forefront of the mix and emphasizes her understated delivery and the content, but underpinned by a sense of grace and forgiveness for herself as she reconciles past decisions. This doesn’t necessarily need to feature Carlile, but I like that her backing vocals creep in at the right moments to add a gentle, equally understated touch – like a friend offering support for someone who desperately needs it.
Carpenter’s writing has never been overly poetic or detailed, to be frank, but that works here when the focus is less on the implied abuse and emotional scars still felt today from a past trauma as it is trying to find a sense of understanding and peace. And while Carpenter tries to move on, questioning the root of that hurt is a more complex question that can only be answered by personal interpretations, and it ends on a realistic note of finding a sense of calm and the courage to step forward, if not the answers to go with it. Sometimes taking it one day at a time is a solution in itself.