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>> JOHNNY CASH'S STEP DAUGHTER CARLENE CARTER RE-EMERGES WITH POIGNANT NEW CD CARTER PAYS TRIBUTE, CARRIES ON TRADITION
Carlene Carter carries on her family's long musical legacy and pays tribute to lost love ones on new album

 Carlene Carter's new album has tracks honoring her family and longtime beau Howie Epstein.
Robert Matheu
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Date published: 1/15/2009

BY BOBBY McMAHON

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

As the daughter of honky-tonk legend Carl Smith and June Carter--and the step-daughter of Johnny Cash--Carlene Carter was born into country music royalty.

Sidetracked by personal demons and losses, she's back and still carrying on the family tradition. Carter and her band will perform at The Barns at Wolf Trap on Saturday.

Growing up, Carter certainly had the genes to follow in her parents' footsteps, but it wasn't a foregone conclusion that she was going to be a country singer.

"I always knew I wanted to be a musician," Carter said in a recent phone interview.

"I just didn't know exactly how it was going to pan out. It wasn't always a given that I would go into the family business and make a living at it."

She eventually did go into the family business, embarking on a career that is now going on 30 years. While she peaked commercially in the early '90s with hits "I Fell in Love" and "Every Little Thing," she was often known more for her offstage troubles, which included wild partying and bouts with addiction, than her music.

Carter has also seen more than her share of sorrow. In 2003, she experienced the deaths of not only her famous mother and stepfather, but also her younger sister, Rosey, and her longtime partner, Howie Epstein, who played bass for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Her latest album, "Stronger," intimately recounts her journey back from those depths, and marks her first record released in more than a decade.

Carter said many of the songs, particularly "Judgment Day," which discusses Epstein's death, are always emotional to sing on stage.

"That song in particular--I always have a little bit of a hard time getting through it, but I do," she said.

"I don't stop, but sometimes I crack up a little bit, and that's OK. That's the reason I wrote it--to share that moment in my life with other people."

Carter, 53, appears to have her troubles behind her. She has grandchildren now, and credits new husband (her fourth) Joe Breen with helping motivate her to create her new album. Wed in 2006, Carter says that she and Breen travel the road together as much as they can, and have never been apart for more than a week.


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What: Carlene Carter Where: The Barns at Wolf Trap, 1635 Trap Road, Vienna When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Cost: $25 Info: 703/255-1900 Web: wolftrap.com