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CARLTON ANDERSON: KEEPING COUNTRY "BEAUTIFUL"


He looks like so many of today’s young country singers: light brown hair swept back, basic scruffy beard, deep set eyes. But when Arista Nashville’s Carlton Anderson sings, the voice that flows out is qual parts hickory smoke and sunset. Warm, easy and comforting, it’s an old friend you know by heart. It’s also a voice that’s lonesome like the miles of Texas flatlands and country in its unabashed honesty.

At a time when country is as pop-leaning as it’s been in more than a decade, Anderson is a stone country artist. Raised on Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash (courtesy of his grandfather) and George Strait and Keith Whitley (from his mother), he only wants to make that kind of music. With deep roots in Texas’ oil refining and military workforce, he lived the life working in repair shops for oil rigs, grocery stores and oil fields around Cypress, Texas before trying his hand at singing.

Anderson headed to Nashville and started singing in dive bars on Lower Broad, committed to making the country he felt in his heart. “Keep Abilene Beautiful,” written with songwriting legends Tom Douglas (“The House That Built Me,” “Drunk Girl”) and Tony Lane (“A Little Past Little Rock,” “Run”), captures the isolation of being too far from home, chasing things that don’t matter as much as you thought.

When he performed the song during his Grand Ole Opry debut at the Ryman, the notoriously prickly Larry Gatlin marched Anderson back onstage to take a proper standing ovation, saying he’d not seen anything like him since Randy Travis 30 years before. The deeply sincere Texan’s authenticity and reverence for classic country songwriting slices through the high-gloss production and pumped-up beats driving the genre currently, touching people in a very real place. To understand the naked power of Anderson’s gift, watch the pensive young man stripped down to just an acoustic guitar at a songwriters’ round.

“Keep Abilene Beautiful” lands in the realm of Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman,” Kenny Chesney’s “What I Need to Do,” Ronnie Milsap’s “Smoky Mountain Rain” and Strait’s “Run.” Not just lamenting an empty dream, it honors the foundation that created him.

At a time when country feels poised for a major musical shift, Anderson walks the line between commercial accessibility and what hard country has always embodied. Like Travis, whose resonant baritone Anderson evokes, the dignity he gives his unwavering sense of icehouse country may make him the guy who changes everything. If I were a betting woman, I’d bet on him.

 

 

 

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