First Impressions: Lost Tapes Vol. 2 by Valerie Carter

I’ve grooving this morning to Valerie Carter’s Lost Tapes Vol. 2, a recent archival release that gathers a dozen treasures under one roof. Some tracks saw the light of day along the way, while others were relegated to the tape bin of history…until now. (For those not in the know, which I imagine are mostly millennial-aged and younger music fans, Carter—who passed away in 2017—was one of the top backing vocalists of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, accompanying an array of artists both in studio and on tour. She also released a few albums on her own, including the acclaimed Just a Stone’s Throw Away, and inspired the Jackson Browne song “That Girl Can Sing.”)

The set kicks off with “Day After Day,” a duet with Jackson Browne that was released on the 2010 SingSOS: Songs of the Spectrum compilation, but with a snippet of conversation left in place at song’s start and a tweaked mix that gives more prominence to Browne’s vocals. The Eric Poe-written “Two Sides (To Every Situation)” from Al Kooper’s 1982 album, Championship Boxing, follows; it’s a soulful delight, as is the song that follows, “I’m in Love With You,” which was written by Larry John McNally and co-produced by McNally and Carter’s former Howdy Moon bandmate Jon Lind. Where this particular performance comes from, though, is anybody’s guess, though I’d wager sessions for McNally’s 1981 debut, as a duet version was tacked on to its 2019 reissue. The same’s true for “Indivisible,” which was penned and produced by McNally and Lind. 

The lack of “where” and “when” background information is the only downside to the compilation, though the reason is understandable. If I’m reading the press material correctly, much of the material came from tapes Carter stored here, there and everywhere through the years; the surrounding information wasn’t included. In lieu of specifics, however, the CD booklet does include remembrances from some of the principals as well as cool photos.

That said, the liner notes do explain that “Feeling So Fine” was written for a Japanese TV commercial hawking the MiniDisc in Japan—yet you’d never guess it from the result, which sounds like a long lost Tex-Mex treasure. “Dove” with Tom Kell is especially sublime, with his weathered vocals buttressed by her angelic harmonies; it hails from his 2012 album This Desert City. Two tracks with Will Jennings are equally stirring: “Texas When the Sun Go Down” features an ‘80s feel (dig those keyboards) while exploring the nightlife scene in East Texas, while “Why Do All the Good Times Go Away” is a jaw-dropping tour de force. (The latter was recorded by Placido Domingo on his 1985 crossover album, Save Your Nights for Me.)

“Your Christmas Day,” written by Carter’s friend Laura Allen, is as wondrous and sweet as the title implies; in a better world, it would be added to the playlists of the all-Christmas radio stations that gear into action every autumn. “Falling Down on You,” a duet with fellow James Taylor back-up singer Kate Markowitz, hails from the soundtrack for the 1998 movie The Unknown Cyclist. It’s another overlooked delight from times gone by—it doesn’t appear that the soundtrack even made it to CD.

“Close Your Eyes,” written by Tricia Tunstall and Donald Johnston for their musical based on Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf novel, is surprisingly nice; this version was recorded for a collection (New Singers, New Songs 1994) the songwriters put together that also features Carter on several other tracks. This Lost Tapes compilation concludes with the song that essentially started it all for Carter: her self-penned “Cook With Honey” from the 1974 self-titled album that her group Howdy Moon released. (It was later a minor hit for Judy Collins, of course.)

Despite its many disparate sources, Lost Tapes Vol. 2 flows the way an album should; it sounds like any of the many albums of yore that featured a who’s who of guest appearances. It’s one part singer-songwriter in style, one-part blue-eyed soul, and all parts good. (It can be ordered, along with the first Lost Tapes set, via the official Valerie Carter website.)

The track list:

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