The McCarters were three young sisters from near Dolly Parton’s neck of the woods. The Gift, released in 1988 was truly a revelation resembling nothing else being played on the radio at that time. One critic described the album as the sequel to the Trio album that Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt had not gotten around to making yet.
High praise indeed and based on this album, the McCarters seemed to have a bright future ahead. The shimmering sibling harmonies and brilliant acoustic settings made this album something special and unique. I should note that this is NOT a bluegrass album, although I would not be surprised to hear the songs on bluegrass radio. With the exception of the piano and presence of drums, all of the instruments on the album are acoustic, played by such aces as Mark O’Connor (fiddle, viola, mandolin, mandola), Carl Jackson (acoustic guitar) and John Jorgenson (acoustic guitar, mandolin, mandocello). Jennifer McCarter was the lead singer on all songs, with younger twin sisters Lisa and Teresa providing the vocal harmonies.
The album opens up with “I Give You Music” a story ballad written by Dennis Adkins. This was the third single released from the album. It charted at a disappointing #28 (#16 in Canada).
Next up is “Timeless and True Love”, the debut single released in late 1987. Written by Austin Roberts, Charlie Black & Buzz Cason, the song soared to #5. The song is a very nice ballad featuring Mark O’Connor’s fiddle through the arrangement:
For mine is a timeless and true love
An endless river rollin’ on and on
Forever and ever for you love
Oh mine is a timeless and true love
Just look at how the mountains reach up to the sky
So strong against the hard winds as the years go by
My love is no less tender born of fire and steel
And the world could never change the way I feel
This is followed by a Bill Graham-Carl Jackson-Buddy Landon collaboration “Flower In The Desert”, a mid-tempo ballad with some excellent fiddling by Mark O’Connor. The song is album track with strong Appalachian overtones.
Lola Jean Dillon was a successful songwriter who wrote several of Loretta Lynn’s big hits and co-wrote with L. E. White the funny Conway Twitty / Loretta Lynn duet “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly”; “Where Would That Leave Us” is not a humorous but a fine ballad about a relationship that seems to be the salvation of the singer.
“I Know Love” comes from the pens of Randy Albright, Mark D Sanders and Lisa Silver. The song is a another slow ballad, nicely sung, but I do not think the song is anything special; however the next track “The Gift” by Nancy Montgomery is indeed something special .
Darling let me tell you the way I truly feel
A simple explanation from a heart so real
I have been the whole world over and sailed a thousand seas
And still come back to you
Now I believe that gold is not so precious or so real
For I Have Seen The Miracle of Love As It’s Revealed
And When You Hear This Song I Hope That You Will See
The gift I give to you, my love forever true
“The Gift” would be the biggest hit reaching #4 (#2 in Canada). After that it would be downhill, as it would be for the rest of this album, four more songs that fit nicely in context with the album.
The Gift appeared at one of those brief moments in history when something as retro sounding as this album could break through, if only momentarily. In 1989 the ‘New Traditionalist’ movement (in reality the new honky-tonk traditionalist movement) would have its leading avatars appear thus wiping out the market for The McCarters’ music. In fact after the first two singles, the market had already turned away from the McCarters. A second album would follow and then it was over.
I would give this album an A+, but as much as I enjoyed the album at the time it was released, I realized that it was an outlier and unlikely to be repeated.