New Orleans based singer-songwriter Carsie Blanton has worked in the music business for well over a decade, but in the past year her career shifted to high gear with the release of her sixth album, “Buck Up.”
National Public Radio music critic Ken Tucker reviewed the album on NPR’s Fresh Air, calling it one of the year’s 10 best.
Since then, Blanton has been getting other rave reviews and selling more concert tickets.
“Yeah, it was huge for my career,” the 34-year-old performer said during a telephone interview last week.
Blanton and her band make their debut performance at the Stoughton Opera House Friday, when they’ll play music ranging from funky folk to rhythm and blues centered around the singer’s sultry voice and clever tunes.
Her originals tend to fall into one of three broad categories — romance/love songs, social/political commentary, or quirky/funny.
“With both the political and the romantic stuff,” Blanton explained, “I often find it kind of tedious unless there’s an element of humor. So a lot of those songs have an element of humor otherwise I can’t get up the gumption to finish them.”
An example from her latest album is the song “Bed,” in which the singer declares she’s “not gonna get out of bed today” while lamenting the result of last presidential election: “Every time I turn on the news it’s like a kick in the head; why don’t you wake me up when the President’s dead.”
“That song was trying to make it into more of a joke than it felt like,” she observed. “Humor is one of my main coping mechanisms.”
Musical upbringingBlanton was raised in a musical family in a small town in Virginia. Her parents played instruments and were “both very enthusiastic music appreciators,” she said.
Her family’s social life revolved around music, and she began playing guitar at age 13.
“Our house when I was growing up doubled as like a retreat center, and also like kind of a party central,” she recalled with a laugh.
“We always had parties and we always had like random interesting people coming through the house.”
Blanton’s grandfather sent her some CDs for her 13th birthday and introduced her to jazz, particularly the music of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.
“I was really struck with them,” she remembered. “They’re still probably my two favorite singers.
“That experience helped me create a musical identity and a musical expression for myself,” she added. “It led me to discovering jazz and playing other types of music.”
Blanton grew up fast in that supportive environment. But she was impatient to become an adult and left home at 16, moved to Eugene, Oregon, and began living in a house with a bunch of other young musicians.
It proved to be a turning point in her personal evolution.
“I landed in this really creative household, with mostly people who were older than me in their early 20s,” she recalled. “There were probably five different bands operating out of that one household.”
Before long she was writing songs, improving her guitar technique and performing in a band as a backup singer. She said it all amounted to “sort of a creative pressure cooker” that was “great and exciting.”
“I don’t know if I would have chosen this career path if I hadn’t had those couple of years just to really experiment,” Blanton said.
With the help of friends, she recorded her first album, “Hush,” in 2002. Three years later she released the first of six studio recordings.
A busy yearSince releasing “Buck Up” in February, Blanton and her band have been touring almost nonstop. She resides in New Orleans but hasn’t been there since June, she said, adding that she’s become a “more prolific” songwriter in recent years and has enough material composed already for her next album.
A self-declared “socialist,” Blanton is critical of capitalism and says it’s an inefficient way to distribute “anything that’s really important to human life, like healthcare and music.”
She said she’s “always broke” but feels successful as a musician despite lacking a bank account.“Above all, the fact that I get to do this as my job and I don’t have to have another job is the ultimate success,” she reasoned. “There’s not really anything greater than that.”
From the stage and also in her blog, which tackles subjects ranging from gender expectations and capitalism to sex, Blanton said she likes to “shake people up a little bit.”
“As a performer, over the last 15 years I’ve noticed that my style is almost like a vaudeville style. I like to have people laughing and I like to have a little bit of a shock factor,” she explained. “So when I perform, I want people to be laughing and maybe to be crying, and I want people to feel a little bit turned on and a little bit offended by what I’m saying.”