Take every assumption about what it means to be a modern recording artist and stand it on its head, because that's exactly what Deana Carter has done with The Chain, her second Vanguard release. And in challenging the conventions of a business that has enabled her considerable artistic and commercial success, she's forever altered the path of her career and even her approach to music.

The original intent, however, wasn't quite so monumental. It was just a simple idea. "It's a record I've been wanting to do forever, doing songs he did and working with artists he worked with," she says. "It felt like the right time."
"He" is Fred Carter, Jr., her father and one of the most accomplished studio guitarists in history. His daughter, of course, turned her almost inborn passion for music into an impressive career of her own. The quintuple platinum explosion of her 1996 debut Did I Shave My Legs For This? led to a series of commercial and critical successes all framed by her unmistakable and quietly emotive voice. Her most recent offering is the well-received Vanguard debut Story Of My Life, released in 2005.

Going back and exploring the music she grew up around was a notion she'd always carried with her, but the process proved to be more of an education than she'd imagined. "When I started thinking about making this album at the end of 2006, I went to Amoeba in L.A." she says. "It's this killer record store with an archive where you can dig through actual albums, find the liner notes and look at credits. I was looking for things he'd worked on and, gosh, he's worked with everybody.
"I knew a lot of the folk, rock and pop stuff because that's what I was into when I was young," she explains. "I always knew the country was there because we lived in Nashville, but he also did Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan – things I was a little more into growing up."

Connecting all the dots, Deana found new appreciation for just how significant her father's contributions were. "He had a signature sound you hear in most of those records in the late sixties and seventies," she says. "All that guitar work is Dad on 'The Boxer' and 'El Paso' – that kind of acoustic, gut-string stuff. He played guitar, he played bass on some stuff. He was either a player or producer.

"He had a studio called Nugget Records in Nashville for a long time and that's kind of where we hung out most of my childhood; where most of these people were in and out. He ran ABC Records in Nashville for a little while back in the day. He's worn a lot of hats."

Like any other well-executed research project, the legwork was supplemented by the informational vortex of the internet. "I spent half my recording budget on iTunes downloading everything," she laughs. "There was so much time spent trying to learn this music – it was a task. There was a lot of information to try to sift through, but it was so worth it."

And then there was the source himself. "Researching the country stuff was really fun for me because I had to ask Dad about it," she says. "It's mind blowing all the great artists he's worked with. All the way from Eddy Arnold to Muddy Waters.
"I have the worst memory in the world and he would get to the point of being like, 'Stop asking me!' But the best way to get him going was to get him to tell stories. I still want to get him, Kristofferson, Willie, Jessie Colter, Hank Cochran and all the rest in a room and film them talking and reliving some of these musical moments.

"He was very helpful, though. He knew when they cut it, the process before and after, the promotion of it. That was the cool thing, because he had great perspective more than just being on the record."

Distilling that research into a 12-song list, Deana has produced a tribute to her father, a chronicle of his career and a scrapbook of her childhood. All the more remarkable is the realization that a common thread connects Roy Orbison's "Crying," Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay," Willie Nelson's "On The Road Again" and Neil Young's "Old Man." That thread is the musicianship of Fred Carter, Jr., who returns for his first full album performance since receiving a kidney transplant and undergoing quadruple bypass surgery.
Perhaps Deana's biggest hurdle was reaching out to the original artists. "I'm not a person who's comfortable asking someone for anything," she says. "For me to have to contact these people and ask them to come be on the project, it was really hard. It was more a personal issue for me than the music itself."

But they came: Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, John Anderson, Paul Simon and his son Harper, Waylon's son Shooter Jennings, Jessi Colter, Willie, George Jones. And many who weren't able to participate wished they could.
And so in a business that breeds narcissism chronicled by a critical press corps that celebrates artists who reveal their own inner brilliance, Deana Carter searched deeply and discovered that she's standing on the shoulders of giants. That she is, at best, another link in the chain.

"This record has been very humbling to say the least," she says with no hesitation. "It's opened my eyes to how little I do know, how much I need to learn and how many great people have preceded me. It's been a lesson in dealing with ego way outside of the music."

The project liberated her from the demands placed upon almost every musical endeavor she's undertaken. "It was really nice to have the luxury of having songs no label can say, 'There's no hit on there. We don't hear a hit.' Well, that's not true. That took the pressure off. I felt so much freedom. I felt more like the conduit to this thing happening. It was such a growing experience for me outside of the performance I did on the record."

Though she's earned her share of awards and had both a Grammy and Golden Globe nomination, Carter has never set her sights on those honors. Until now. "This is the first record I truly want some recognition for," she says. "Just for the people on it. It's not about me; it's about the nature of the album and what it means.

"We aren't creating many icons anymore. I know I sound like a dinosaur when I talk that way, but I'm very sappy about hard work and creativity and individuality. Things that are lasting. That's what this music represents. That's why this music is so timeless. If nothing else, the attention might help more people discover it."

Meanwhile, the discovery Deana made on this album doesn't end here. "I want to be a link in something meaningful as opposed to trying to tackle everything myself and take credit, which seems like such a natural thing in this business," she says. "I'm just grateful for the humility that's come out of this. That's what's going to be different on my next album. There might be one song on every record from here on out that's kind of carrying the link through."

Until then, "I just hope people can discover this project and feel some of what I felt putting it together, because it's coming from such a place of gratitude."