Stetson hats, denim, and cowboy boots
Yes, by 1977, the year when this album made its appearance, Southern-Rock had certainly come a long way. Named in honour of South Carolina, the state from which The Marshall Tucker Band originated, Carolina Dreams was their sixth record and most commercially successful. According to lead singer Doug Gray, the album “took a long time to record. We were shooting for a little more this time. We knew it was going to be a strong record. I think Carolina Dreams represented some of our finest moments in the studio.”
Throughout, all the quintessential elements for which MTB were renowned are firmly in place: exquisite harmonies, heartfelt lyrics, a tight, hard-working rhythm section, and of course, Toy Caldwell’s unmistakable guitar playing, as evidenced on the Jethro Tull meets Allman Brothers “Fly Like An Eagle,” which is about as fine an opener any MTB fan could expect to hear. “Heard It In A Love Song” is a consummate example of all that was best about late ‘70s country-rock, receiving plenty of play on FM radio, thus helping to propel both the song and album into the charts.
Paul Hornsby contributes some lovely piano on the mournful “I Should Have Never Started Loving You,” a song the listener might well be tempted to want to hear again, followed by the upbeat “Life In A Song,” featuring The Allman Brothers’ Chuck Levell (piano) and Jaimoe (congas), thus cementing the strong connection and friendship between the two bands. The recording is also augmented by a horn section led by Leo Labranche, adding a brassy, R&B flavour.
“Desert Skies” is a breezy blend of country, swing, blues, along with just a slight hint of jazz, thanks to Caldwell’s soft unassuming chords and Jerry Eubanks’ saxophone solo. The near-cinematic Western-inspired “Never Trust A Stranger” could be MTB’s very own “Cowboy Song,” off David Crosby’s If I Could Remember My Name LP from several years earlier, in that “Stranger” actually tells a story, where “An outlaw is a man/Who never understands/A word called danger.”
Closing the album is the wistful, mostly acoustic “Tell It To The Devil,” a song which takes the listener to the border of Mexico, and maybe even beyond. The lyrics tell a cautionary tale concerned with temptation and redemption, and is a fine, thoughtful way to conclude what remains to this day one of MTB’s strongest efforts.
As with all the other remasters, the CD includes the bonus live track “Silverado,” recorded at Winter Garden, Dallas Texas in 1981, as if to prove that although a few years had passed since the release of this album, the group were as musically potent as ever.
Carolina Dreams should put paid to any notion that The Marshall Tucker Band were limited to country-rock. Sure, they might have dressed like a bunch of cowpokes, but that should never put anyone off from the sheer skill and quality (not to mention talent) each member put into their collective craft.
The following year, the band would go on to release what could be considered an even better album, 1978’s Together Forever. Still, Carolina Dreams managed to keep the spirit of alive, Southern-Rock alive at a time when Punk was at its peak and disco was getting ready to pounce on all and sundry.
Compilations are all good and well, but can never offer the listener anything more than a cursory overview of a band’s oeuvre. And in the case of MTB, it is the original albums which matter most, and provide a far greater pleasure than any compilation ever can.