Author-turned-songwriter Zoe FitzGerald Carter releases her debut solo full-length, Waterlines, featuring ten original songs backed by some of the Bay Area’s best. Her background as a journalist, essayists, and author (Imperfect Endings) gives the album an autobiographical feel, partly implied by the album title, serving as a metaphor for searching clues from the past. The graduate of Columbia has written for national publications including The New York Times, Newsweek, and Vogue. She’s played and performed with numerous Bay Area bands, including the all-journalist band, The Deadliners, and the Dylan-inspired, Rolling Thunder. Her first album (Waiting for the Earthquake) was released in 2018 and features her longtime Americana string band, Sugartown, a staple at Bay Area clubs like The Freight & Salvage, The Back Room, Hotel Utah and Rancho Nicasio.
The album features a rich array of Bay Area musicians, including drummer Dawn Richardson (formerly of 4 Non Blondes and Tracy Chapman’s touring band), keyboardist Julie Wolf (Ani DeFranco), trumpet/flugelhorn player Erik “Mr. Tasty” Jekabson (John Mayer), bass player Paul Olguin (famed Bay Area sideman), and guitarist extraordinaire Michael Papenburg, who soars on the album’s funk-infused feminist anthem “Teenage Boy.”
Zoe says, “Writing has always been a way for me to make sense of things. The process of capturing experiences on the page, whether it’s something dramatic like a breakup or a death, or smaller and more subtle like the timeless feeling you get lying on a raft, can totally change your understanding of what’s happened. And when you add melody and rhythm and instruments, it can feel like a novella packed into four minutes.”
She opens with a string of quieter, folk-influenced songs in an earthy, soothing voice somewhere between Eliza Gilkyson and early Nanci Griffith sans Texas accent. “Better Things to Do,” “Below the Waterline,” “Owl in Kensington” and “Only Girl” focus on her storytelling. The album shifts to the trance-like “On the Raft,” followed by the Latin- flavored “Like A Drum.” Taking a cue perhaps from Joni Mitchell’s later period, Zoe offers laid-back and sensuous fare in two trumpet-inflected jazz tunes “These Words” and “Saturday Man.” To change things up and reveal her preference for American, she brings the classic country ballad “One Too Many Days in Nashville.” Yet the closer, and the album’s most impactful track, is the sassy, bass-driven rocker and now video, “I Wanna Be a Teenage Boy,” inspired by the Kavanaugh hearings.
“My musical roots are firmly planted in Folk and Americana,” Zoe says, “but the last couple of years I’ve been exploring new musical terrain, including Brazilian and jazz. The stylistic arc of the album reflects that evolution, which was beautifully handled by the musicians involved. Recording the album was collaborative and just absurdly fun. It also provided a much-needed distraction from this terrible year. It’s my fervent hope that the political and pandemic-related horrors of 2020 will be firmly behind us when the album drops — and we will once again be able to play and listen to live music.”
Apparently, Zoe has recently taken up playing drums too, so her combination of musical and literary gifts and explorative, restless spirit bode well for intriguing future offerings. This one certainly fits that bill.