Dare To Be Small (2005, Lobby Door Music)
Carter Little apparently left his New York home a few years ago to join forces with his brother in the Nashville roots collective, Saddlesong. After a falling out of sorts Carter parted ways with the band and decided it was high time to release solo work full-time (he put forth a self-titled EP in 2001), with a bit of help from friends, of course. Neilson Hubbard was called in to produce the latter half of the album and that may be evident to those familiar with Hubbard’s last few albums on Parasol. A wide assortment of others show up throughout the album adding keys, cello and vocals to the mix but don’t think this is your standard N-ville crackpot assembly. The effortless change of tempo from one song to another (sometimes even within a song) definitely implies a symbiotic relationship, one egg just as important as another in the basket.
Most of the songs on Dare To Be Small are fueled by basic guitar strumming, barely-there drumming, piano and occasional burps of synth, used mainly for textural purposes. ‘Fall’ and ‘Long Way Down’ feature gorgeous harmonies to great effect, provided courtesy of Clare Burson, Carter Wood and Melissa Mathes. Who are these mysterious sirens and why do we not hear more of them on the album? ‘Kill My Darling’ has a crunchy meat-and-potatoes power-pop feel to it, not unlike Eugene Edwards or Marshall Crenshaw. The title pretty much sums up the song’s meaning and thankfully for the sake of friends and family he cannot ‘find the heart to get it done’. This also happens to be the only song on the album that could possibly wake up the baby in the next room. ‘Began At The End’ finds Carter pouring forth his beaten soul over the departure of a bittersweet love against a backdrop of aching pedal steel and piano. This, and the ensuing finale ‘Slipping’ is where we find him at the top of his game, accompanied by sparse arrangements and his fragile vocal delivery.
Carter’s bio would like you to believe he has something in common with the late Elliott Smith but that’s a bit deceiving. In fact, the only thing they have in common is their love for portraying sadness and grief by way of their music. I mean we can compare that to a lot of heart-on-sleeve singer-songwriters, no? Little is much more in tune with Ryan Adams, Steve Earle (with less drawl) or a more simplistic Josh Rouse (check out the opening track ‘Break My Heart’ and tell me that’s not a take on Rouse’s ‘Suburban Sweetheart’). That, my friends, is not small change. Dare has all the ingredients necessary to place Little on the fringe if placed into the right mailboxes. At first I didn’t think much of it but I found myself drawn in the more I listened. Let it grow.