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Premiere: Melissa Carper - 'Hit or Miss'

By Jof Owen

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Taken from her forthcoming album Ramblin' Soul, ‘Hit Or Miss’ is Melissa Carper’s unique take on the Odetta classic. Like the other songs on the album, it’s a song about living a free life, rambling around, looking for a place to fit in or just being happy sticking out, reimagined by Carper as a joyously old-timey blues shuffle.

“Sitting here all by myself / Trying to be everybody else”, she sings. “Can’t you see I gotta be me / Ain’t nobody just like this / I gotta be me baby hit or miss”. Her voice is like a gloriously aged whiskey, with a deep smoky flavour that cuts through everything around it. It’s no surprise the singer has been fondly dubbed “HillBillie Holiday” by friend and collaborator Chris Scruggs.

“I hadn't realized until more recently how much of a figure Odetta was in the American folk music revival and also what a pioneer she was for female artists”, Carper explained about choosing to cover the song. When it came to actually recording it she was understandably nervous.

“I would never have thought of trying to sing this song because I am frankly intimidated by the power and attitude Odetta sings it with”, she told us. “Someone suggested I record ‘Hit or Miss’, so I decided to give it a try. I recorded a demo of it and, listening back, quickly realized that I would have to sing this song like I meant it or I was never going to pull it off. I gave it my best shot and tried to embody her attitude. The morning before we recorded it, I listened to Odetta sing it 50 times over to get pumped up!” 

After the success of her critically-acclaimed 2021 album Daddy’s Country Gold, Carper was eager to get back in the studio. With co-producers Andrija Tokic (St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Hurray For The Riff Raff) and Dennis Crouch (The Time Jumpers) behind the desk at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville, Carper assembled that same incredible crew of musicians that featured on Daddy’s Country Gold. The album features 10 Carper originals, along with a co-write with Gina Gallina, a song from Brennen Leigh and her reimagined version of this Odetta classic.

"Ramblin' Soul was inspired by the new appreciation I had for the freedom to travel around the country and perform," explains lifelong wanderer Melissa Carper of her forthcoming album. Carper was relieved and energized to be back on the road, on a familiar pilgrimage from Texas to Arkansas and back to meet and collaborate with musician friends. "I had taken for granted the ability to interact with audiences and friends and how much it feeds my soul and my creative process."

A wonderful video for the single featuring legendary swamp funkster Shinyribs is premiering exclusively on Holler below.

Carper’s deep music roots were firmly planted as a child, playing upright bass and singing in her family’s traveling country band in rural Nebraska. Her love of country classics was cultivated by her parents’ record collection - Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley - and a compilation of Jimmie Rodgers’ recordings gifted to her by her father.

After attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on a music scholarship, where she found a new appreciation for jazz classics and vocalists such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, she hit the road in her family’s 1980 Dodge Maxi Van playing the streets and clubs of New Orleans, Austin and even a stint in NYC as a founding member of The Maybelles.

Along the way, she founded The Carper Family, the perfect outlet for her unique skills and style. The band brought her original work to life in a simple yet dynamic fashion that also served her inspirations - country, bluegrass, western swing, and old-style jazz, playing festivals and shows across the globe. Carper also holds a spot in award-winning Arkansas foursome and firm Holler favourites Sad Daddy, and founded roots duo Buffalo Gals with Sad Daddy bandmate and partner, the award-winning fiddler Rebecca Patek.

In 2020, grappling with the loss of regular gigs, Carper and Patek moved to a friend’s farm near Austin, working in exchange for housing, organic vegetables and fresh, country air. It was here that the seeds planted all those years ago for Ramblin’ Soul began to flower, as the simpler life afforded her the space and rejuvenation needed to channel her muse, and begin writing for her next album.

Ramblin' Soul is out on November 18th on Mae Music through Thirty Tigers