On ‘Love & Rage,’ Carsie Blanton Meets Hard Times with High Spirits
Times are tough. Add up the challenges posed by systemic racism, economic inequality, environmental woes, and, of course, the pandemic, among many other ills, and the modern world can feel downright overwhelming. However, Carsie Blanton is on the case. Fiery and sweet at once, the exhilarating Love & Rage is a balm for what ails society today, and for any fresh madness lurking around the corner.
Blanton says she “writes anthems for a world worth saving,” which is an accurate yet incomplete description of her vastly entertaining music. Mixing a jazz singer’s subtle phrasing and a folk singer’s directness, she folds blunt declarations into appealing songs that never strike a harsh note, from pop epics to intimate ballads. Don’t be deceived by Blanton’s gentle voice and seemingly casual delivery. She means business, extolling the joys of desire and seeking justice with the same eloquent determination.
Reveling in her mission, Blanton combines forceful messages and irresistible exuberance. “Shit List” replicates the acid disdain of early Elvis Costello, taking aim at entrenched male privilege to the strains of a pumping, Attractions-style organ. “You want a medal just for being a white boy / That ain’t the way we do it no more,” she sneers, steam practically coming out of her ears. Embracing anger in the name of love, the rousing, supremely catchy “Down in the Streets” addresses hard times with a call to collective action, exclaiming, “They call it a riot / ’Cause we ain’t keepin’ quiet,” adding, “Who’s the real villain / When we can’t even make a livin’?” Should all else fail, at least have a good time, she says in the languid, dark-humored “Party at the End of the World,” observing, “We’re going out in a blaze of glory / It’s too late now to fix this mess / So honey put on that party dress.”
The subversive “Be Good” sums up the radical philosophy underlying Blanton’s most potent work. Suitable for a mellow Sunday brunch, this easy shuffle draws on Jesus and Martin Luther King, urging, “Be good to the people you love / And love everybody alive,” and continuing, “There ain’t nothin’ more criminal than kindness.” Such a beautiful, revolutionary attitude is always welcome today.
Blanton brings the same plainspoken vibe to personal stories. The fizzy toe-tapper “Be So Bad” celebrates the guilt-free pursuit of pleasure as she sighs, “If I’m so bad / Why do I feel so good?,” wild-eyed delirium creeping into her voice. The sultry “Ain’t No Sin” seconds this sentiment, dismissing the prospect of damnation and proclaiming that, whatever her flaws, “I tell the truth and I try to be kind.”
For all her brash energy, Blanton also excels at old-fashioned love songs. The gorgeous “Mercy,” a tender echo of John Prine’s quieter moments, closes the album with a simple ode to the power of one person to save another. Whether summoning righteous fury or offering soothing comfort, Love & Rage makes it a little easier to survive another strange day.