No other American city is a musical melting pot like Memphis. Blues, soul, rock, country—all these roots genres seep into one another in the Bluff City and surrounding environs, producing fascinating hybrids as compelling as they are unique.
Sandy Carroll is a proud product of that nurturing environment. The native of Stantonville, Tennessee (located two hours east of Memphis) first made her name singing while accompanying herself on piano inside the late-night bars on a revitalized Beale Street. That indelible experience and plenty more from her Memphis grounding inform every note she sings and every song she writes—and she’s written plenty with a host of talented collaborators in a variety of genres.
“I think from my years on the road and working on Beale Street, I just have that sound,” says Carroll. That sound permeates her new album for Blue Heart. Check out the uplifting “Love On It” for proof positive. “I wrote that one with Mark Narmore, who’s one of my main co-writers. We liked that one because it was up and joyful, and it was positive,” says Sandy. “You can worry something to death. And of course, you’re going to do it anyway. But it’s like, don’t worry about it. My girlfriend was talking about something, about so-and-so. I said, ‘Look, just put a little love on it and let it go!’ And that’s the whole idea behind that song. Don’t preach about it, don’t complain about it, don’t sing it. Just put a little love on it, and let it go.”
Contrast that with the moving “Soul Of The Heart,” a Carroll co-write with Buddy Leach, who contributes its soaring sax solo. “He came up with the music and asked me to do some lyrics for it. I had had the idea swimming around a long time, about how you can have your heart broken. I mean, you might even die. Who knows? But no matter what, the soul of it never stops. Whatever is in your heart, the deepest nugget is going to keep on beating,” she says. “You never give up on hope on love, because no matter what’s happened to your heart, you’ve got the soul of it that’s always there.”
The new CD is an outgrowth of the pandemic. “I didn’t really expect to have a new album, but we wrote so many songs during COVID that we started tracking. And it was like, ‘Well, you know, we’ve got these great songs and we work with these great people, so let’s just put one out!’” says Sandy, whose all-star backing cast included guitarist Will McFarlane, bassist Dave Smith, and drummer Steve Potts.
“We recorded it at our little studio here in West Tennessee, actually where I grew up.” “We” would be Sandy and her husband, Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines, who specializes in blues and similar roots genres. Their studio is called Bessie Blues. “Jim said, ‘I will never have a studio. We’ll never have a studio.’ But we started moving some gear over, and it’s turned international. We’ve recorded all kinds of people over there, so it’s pretty easy to go over there and record.”
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