25 years ago today, on August 13, 1990, Carlene Carter’s 6th solo album, I Fell In Love, was released on Reprise Records cassettes and compact discs (her first on CD)! The title track preceded the album on May 31, with a high-energy music video that helped it climb to #3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart, while the video went all the way to #1 on TNN and CMT. After she performed the song on TNN’s Nashville Now, Carlene’s stepdad Johnny Cash (who was hosting) told her, “I’m voting for Video of the Year for your video. I think it’s really great.” Then, referring to some of the more acrobatic dancing, he added, “I especially like that scene where there’s a girl falling out of the sky.”
On June 6, 1990 Carlene appeared for the first time at Nashville’s annual Fan Fair (now the CMA Music Festival), performing songs from I Fell In Love and her 1980 album Musical Shapes. In one of the first major reviews of the new album, Alanna Nash of Entertainment Weekly recalled that earlier work as “one of the finest country-rock albums of the post-rockabilly age,” and said that “On this comeback album, Carter, at 34, sounds like a combination of the young Dolly Parton and the even younger Brenda Lee… A soulful interpreter and a stunning songwriter, Carter was ahead of her time a decade ago. This album should allow everyone else to catch up with her. Grade: A.”
I Fell In Love’s second single, “Come On Back” (released on Carlene’s 35th birthday, September 26, 1990), also hit #3, and Carlene performed it on Late Night with David Letterman, who introduced her saying, “I have a feeling this is going to be extra good.” Of I Fell In Love’s stellar musical roster, Rolling Stone noted: “Of course it doesn’t hurt to have all-pros like Albert Lee, Levon Helm and Dave Edmunds lending inspired support. But they’re just the band. I Fell In Love is a Carlene Carter album – the one she’s always had in her. The circle remains unbroken.” And Time magazine declared: “Carter’s first album in seven years is not only a welcome return but also a reminder that she’s one of the best down-home singer-songwriters around.”
At the end of the year, I Fell In Love was named one of the ten best albums of 1990 by Time, People, and Stereo Review magazines, while radio industry publication The Gavin Report named the title single #4 on the Country Top 100 for 1990 (after three by Garth Brooks, who was about to make his Las Vegas debut with Carlene opening six days of shows with him in late January 1991 at the Desert Inn). Radio & Records named Carlene Carter New Female Artist of the Year.
On January 10, 1991 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced their nominations for the 33rd annual Grammy Awards, and in the category of Best Country Vocal Performance, Female the nominees were: “Come Next Monday” (single) K.T. Oslin, “I Fell in Love” (album) Carlene Carter, “Quittin’ Time” (single) Mary-Chapin Carpenter, “Where’ve You Been” (single) Kathy Mattea, and “You Lie” (single) Reba McEntire. (Interestingly, Carlene’s nomination was for her entire album, while all of the others were for one single track.)
In January 1991, Carlene wrote the following to her new fan club mailing list:
Since this is the first club newsletter, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank you for joining the “Fun” club. I appreciate all of your letters of support and encouragement.
I’m really having a great time out on the road. Right now I’m in Las Vegas with Garth Brooks. This is my first big show… my name is even on the marquee in BIG letters! Garth Brooks is a really nice guy and he treats me like a queen. Our shows compliment each other and the audiences have been very receptive. Mom (June Carter) and John (Johnny Cash) are coming to tonight’s show. I am enjoying being able to perform in one city for several days, a nice break from the bus!!
I was completely, totally stunned with the announcement of the Grammy nomination. I wasn’t sure my record qualified. I was thinking perhaps next year… so you can imagine my surprise! Be sure to watch the telecast. I’ll be there looking at all the “stars”!! (Note: Kathy Mattea was named the winner at the show on February 20.)
I’ve just completed work on “The Sweetest Thing” video, to accompany the single release in February. It was shot at an old movie ranch in California, and directed by Gerry Wenner. It shows another side of Carlene Carter… maturity and seriousness! I hope you like it.
I hope to see all of you somewhere out there on the road. Please come to the shows and let me know that you’re a “Fun” club member. I look forward to seeing you!
Two more singles were released from the I Fell In Love album in 1991, and both made top 40 on the Billboard chart, with “The Sweetest Thing” (released March 16, a little later than Carlene had predicted) going to #25 (Carlene sang it on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno March 27), and “One Love” (released August 10) peaking at #33. The album entered the top 20, at #19, on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart.
With her new country radio and chart success from I Fell In Love, Carlene was nominated for Top New Female Vocalist at the 26th annual Academy of Country Music Awards, held in Los Angeles on April 24, 1991. When Shelby Lynne was announced as the winner, the third nominee, Matraca Berg, who was sitting next to Johnny Cash, heard him say, “They never give it to my daughters!” But after 12 years of more critical acclaim than sales for her first 5 solo albums and 10 singles, I Fell In Love was the album that made her a bona fide country star. Bob Allen summed it up in Country Music magazine: “Carlene Carter has always been a renegade… But her musical pedigree–like her talent–is undeniable… Her new album leaves you with the feeling that, at long last, she may be ready for the mainstream. And–even more crucial–the mainstream may finally be ready for her.”
1. I Fell In Love (Carlene Carter / Howie Epstein / Benmont Tench / Perry Lamek)
2. Come On Back (Carlene Carter)
3. The Sweetest Thing (Carlene Carter / Robert Ellis Orrall)
4. My Dixie Darlin’ (A.P. Carter)
5. Goodnight Dallas (Carlene Carter)
6. One Love (Carlene Carter / Howie Epstein / Perry Lamek)
7. The Leavin’ Side (Carlene Carter / Keith Christopher / Tom Gray)
8. Guardian Angel (Carlene Carter / James Eller)
9. Me And The Wildwood Rose (Carlene Carter)
10. You Are The One (Leon Payne)
11. Easy From Now On (Carlene Carter / Susanna Clark)
Produced by Howie Epstein.
Carlene Carter – vocals.
Ed Greene – drums, percussion.
Albert Lee – lead guitar, acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, piano, background vocals.
John Ciambotti – bass, upright bass.
Howie Epstein – acoustic guitar, banjo, background vocals.
Benmont Tench – piano, organ.
Eddie Baytos – accordion.
Bob Metzger – lead guitar, dobro.
Jay Dee Maness – pedal steel guitar, pedal steel.
James Burton – acoustic guitar, acoustic lead guitar, dobro.
Frank Reckard – acoustic guitar.
Phil Parlapiano – accordian.
Lee Thornburg – trumpet.
Phil Kensey – saxophone.
Barry Goldberg – additional piano.
Steve Fishell – Weissenborn slide.
David Lindley – fiddle, banjo.
Doug Atwell – fiddle.
Background vocals – Dave Edmunds, Jim Lauderdale, Levon Helm, Jim Photoglo, Kevin Welch, Keith Knudsen, Vince Melamed, June Carter Cash, Nicolette Larson, Robert Ellis Orrall, Kiki Dee.
Photography – Gerry Wenner.