Single Review: Candi Carpenter featuring Brandi Carlile, “Dirt Around the Tree”

“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.

Grade: A-



  1. Good song. I think it will grow on me.
    I loved her “Burn the Bed” song. I was surprised it did so poorly on the charts. According to my i-tunes library, I’ve played that cheaing song 102 times.

  2. Such a nicely-crafted country song. Such a shame that it likely will be ignored by today’s mainstream country music audiences who’d apparently rather hear about endless partying and antics in the bed of a pickup truck (or down a country backroad, or on a beach, pontoon boat, dirt lot, farm field, or whatever). Sigh.

  3. Back when “Burn the bed” came out, the radio stations in DMV (from another time when I listened to radio) played it almost every hour so much so I got compelled to buy the song on iTunes thinking she wasn’t going to breakout and be the next best thing.
    I still think she has a beautiful voice and an interesting story to tell (part of me wants to really know why she didn’t breakout and become the next best thing other than she’s a “tomato”)

  4. As others here stated, I was interested in Candi Carpenter immediately after hearing “Burn The Bed” the first time (That, and plus the fact that she was/is a big fan of lesser mentioned country artists of yesteryear like the late Jack Greene). I knew right off the bat that song was way too good for modern country radio. Instead of being an anomaly, it was the kind of song you should still be able to hear regularly in the genre. The same goes for this song. With a very beautiful, memorable melody, relatable lyrics that come from real life experiences, and that lovely mandolin, it’s another winner in my book. It’s just too bad that mainstream country has gotten so far away from these kind of songs, but I’m really hoping that will be slowly but surely changing.

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