Carlene Carter carefully delineates her impressive family tree in the liner notes from her great new Don Was-produced album “Carter Girl,” describing her third-generation status in The Carter Family, as the granddaughter of Maybelle Carter, niece of Helen and Anita Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and Carl Smith (her stepfather, of course, was Johnny Cash). She ricocheted through several genres — from her poppy eponymous 1978 debut to her rockabilly 1990 breakthrough “I Fell in Love.” “It was always strongly suggested that I carry on the music of The Carter Family,” she writes. And so she did, covering classics by A.P. Carter and other relatives on “Carter Girl.” She plays at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this weekend. Next year, she'll open an 80-date tour with John Mellencamp.
You took all of the landscape photos on “Carter Girl.” Are you a shutterbug now? I'm always taking pictures. And one of those really bright sunsets was actually through the window of my car on my iPhone. So I've always loved taking pictures, and when my kids were little, that's what I did a lot — I had a little darkroom and really loved photography. I have an Instagram account, but I don't know how to use the damn thing. So I post photos on Twitter and Facebook from time to time. And I took a nice sunset photo from my porch using my iPhone.
Where do you live now? I'm in Solvang. It's a sweet little town, and we're only two hours from L.A. and 30 minutes from Santa Barbara, so we don't feel like we're off the grid at all. And my husband, Joe [Breen], was a big soap opera star, and he had a long run of those. But now he's out singing country music with me. He's in my show — he covers all the duet parts and sings harmony with me and my guitar player. So we have a nice little trio thing going. And now he's getting to do something he always wanted to do.
You embraced English punk in the late 1970s, early '80s, and even wound up marrying Nick Lowe. That's how I was about music — I loved all of it. That was one of my problems in my early career — I wanted to play all kinds of music, and I didn't understand that if you wanted to keep a record deal, you might want to deliver a single every now and then! But with “Carter Girl,” I paid for everything myself, then took it to Rounder and they liked it. And now, in concert, I can tell the stories of where these songs came from and how I came to know them.
IF YOU GO Carlene Carter
Where: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Rooster Stage, Marx Meadow, Golden Gate Park, S.F. When: 11 a.m. Saturday Tickets: Free Contact: www.hardlystrictlybluegrass.com