Rockpile holds a fairly unique position in music history in that while they are recognised as one of rock music’s great bands, and despite comprising UK musicians, they were also a significant influence on subsequent American roots and americana acts, they only released one album under their band name, 1980’s ‘Seconds of Pleasure’. The bulk of their legacy is built on their live reputation and the solo albums of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds which comprised Rockpile tracks with vocals taken by the artist whose name was on the album such as 1979’s ‘Labour of Lust’ by Nick Lowe and ‘Repeat When Necessary’ by Dave Edmunds. Another album that comes under the wider Rockpile umbrella is 1980’s ‘Musical Shapes’ by Carlene Carter who married Nick Lowe in 1979.
Carlene Carter wasn’t only Mrs. Nick Lowe, she was the granddaughter of country music royalty Mother Maybelle Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and Carl Smith, and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash. While Carlene Carter may have had country blue blood in her veins, she started her career with a rock & roll attitude that she mixed with her country twang. ‘Musical Shapes’ is still considered to be a highlight of her career with great songs and judicious covers and a great sound thanks to Nick Lowe’s production and Rockpile’s backing, with the help of assorted pub rockers like Martin Belmont, Bob Andrews, and future Doobie Brother and honorary pub rocker John McFee. One of the many highlights of the album was a cover of Richard Dobson’s ‘Baby Ride Easy’ which featured a duet vocal with Dave Edmunds. Carlene Carter may have been indulging her rock & roll fantasies but we can only guess what Dave Edmunds thought of singing this trucking song with a member of the Carter-Cash family. Richard Dobson was part of the Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, and Jerry Jeff Walker group of singer-songwriters who spent the last almost twenty years of his life as a Swiss resident, leaving a significant body of literate songs when he died in 2017. Carlene’s stepfather was so impressed with her version of the song he recorded his own version with her mother in the ‘80s.
Carlene Carter recorded a true duet version of the song with Dave Edmunds that was included in the BBC feature ‘Queens of Country at the BBC’ which captures the essence of the song and shows what a great duo Carlene Carter and Dave Edmunds made, and this is the version of the song featured here. I’m sure most people will agree that the pairing of Dave Edmunds and Carlene Carter on this track makes us wish they had recorded more duets. Carlene Carter’s career stuttered in the mid’80s before getting back on track with a more country-orientated approach in 1990 with ‘I Feel In Love’ with support from Heartbreaker and partner Howie Epstein and guest appearances from the likes of James Burton, Levon Helm, Albert Lee, and one Dave Edmunds, which was her most successful charting album. However, it is ‘Musical Shapes’ with its new wave attitudes, great songs, and Carlene Carter’s own country heritage that takes the honour of being probably her best album, and ‘Baby Ride Easy’ is a highlight of the album and Carlene Carter and Dave Edmund’s careers. Listen to the duo performance and marvel but with a twinge of regret they never recorded a whole duet album together.