THIS IS YOUR LIFE CD 2005 by Richie Unterberger
Very few rock musicians have had as long a career as Denny Carleton has by making music so simultaneously accessible and uncommercial. Though his melodies are catchy and his reedy vocals engaging, his songs are nonetheless too quirky and homespun to truly enter the mainstream. Artistically (if not financially), those are attributes rather than drawbacks, and This Is Your Life — another in a long line of self-released efforts — finds his talents undimmed in his mid-'50s. Shades of pop, folk, and even traces of Irish and Celtic music find their way into his brand of rock, straightforward and earnest yet packed with witticisms and eccentricities. Wacky references to popular culture, whimsical nostalgia, and a generally amused joy in the ups and downs of everyday life abound. Carleton also has fun both paying homage to and subverting aspects of his musical heritage. He uses many of the lyrics of Buddy Holly's "Words of Love" in the track of the same name on this disc, for instance, but matching them to an entirely different melody, he changes it to something entirely more contemplative, adult, and melancholic. The record sounds more mundane on paper, perhaps, than it really is; it's a low-key pleasure to be enjoyed by those who like heartfelt music that doesn't feel like it needs to be overtly weird, harsh, or dissonant to be independent of popular trends. The one substantial criticism that could be levied is that the production is sometimes thin and not of the highest standard, though it could also be argued that this lo-fi lack of pretense (with Carleton often playing and singing everything himself) suits the artist's auteurist aesthetic.