“Mom, did you get fired?”
That’s the question Deana Carter’s 9-year-old son, Gray, asked at one point during her long hiatus from the stage.
And while country singers don’t get “fired,” per se, Gray wasn’t the only person wondering where Carter was. Female singers promoting everything from twang (Miranda Lambert) to tween (Taylor Swift) have emerged on country airwaves since Carter’s 1996 debut release, “Did I Shave My Legs for This?” And yet, the iconic single from that album, “Strawberry Wine,” still commands airplay.
Carter performed some acoustic numbers along with several other musicians during the CMA Songwriters Series at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan earlier this month, just a couple of days after her new album, “Southern Way of Life,” hit the streets. The 200 people mouthing “the first taste of love, was bittersweet, and green off the vine” to the “Strawberry Wine” rendition just a few feet away suggested a bucket-list experience for the audience.
Carter’s career resurgence has been just as practical as nostalgic, though. She openly admitted on-stage that it had gotten a little lean financially during years focusing on being a single mom. Co-penning 2010’s “You and Tequila” for Kenny Chesney was worth much more than a Grammy nomination.
Although she said she loves shopping at Walmart, she quipped that if not the “You and Tequila” success, “I would be working at Walmart.”
Carter took turns singing with Rory Lee Feek, the overalls-wearing hubby of husband-and-wife duo Joey + Rory; James Otto, who after years writing for others scored his own No. 1 single with “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” in 2008; James Slater, who wrote “In My Daughter’s Eyes” for Martina McBride; and host/songwriter Bob DiPiero, who counts upon his successes George Strait’s “Cowboys Like Us.”
Among Carter’s numbers was “I Know Better,” a gut-wrenching tale of a woman listening to her best friend’s perfect romance -- and knowing that her friend’s beau is not as noble as she thinks.
It’s the kind of song that has pitted Carter against country’s best on Grammy night in the past. In 2012 she was nominated along with Matraca Berg for co-writing “Tequila,” but lost Best Country Song to Swift’s “Mean.”
The experience reminded Carter, who turns 48 on Jan. 4, to her 1997 Grammys debut appearance. She was nominated for Best Country Vocal Performance: Female for “Strawberry Wine,” only to lose to another young’un -- a then 14-year-old LeAnn Rimes for “Blue.”
Carter kidded that she wanted to “tackle” Swift on her way to the stage last year. (A Secret Service-level security response directed by Music Row suits likely would have followed.) She says she’ll have a much more measured response in the future.
“Next time somebody under 21 is nominated for a Grammy against me,” Carter said to laughs, “I ain’t goin’!”