Traces of the singer are woven into the ethereal fabric of 2015’s “Liberman,” Carlton’s fifth studio album titled after an oil painting her grandfather made. Last year, the album was released as a live set, recorded in Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsley. “Liberman” isn’t just the most cohesive collection in her repertoire, dating back to 2002’s breakout LP “Be Not Nobody,” it’s a major sonic shift from “A Thousand Miles.” Her breakthrough piano ditty left such an indelible mark on her career that Carlton’s publicist asks journalists to limit their questions regarding the song to one.
“I will tell you, I play it first at my shows,” she said, noting that her core fanbase now comes to hear songs from 2011’s “Rabbits on the Run” and “Liberman.” “And then there’s always the people who go, ‘Oh my god! It’s Vanessa Carlton! We’ve gotta go see her!’ They don’t know the other stuff, and I’m like their ‘Get Drunk With It On YouTube Girl’ and they just want to relive that moment, but it’s not that kind of show, really. It’s a moodier show. So, I open with that song, and if they’re wanting to stay for the rest of the set, then great; if not, then they got what they wanted.”
‘I never kissed the right ass’
Though “A Thousand Miles” has followed the musician around since the be- ginning of her professional career, Carlton admits it’s afforded her, both financially and otherwise, the ability to pursue more personally fulfilling ventures. After signing to A&M Records, a now-defunct Universal subsidiary, it became apparent to the singer that, “I wasn’t interested in being a pop star.”
“Being a pop star at a major label – there are a lot of rules, there are a lot of walls, there’s a lot of expectations, there’s a lot of limitations,” she said. “It’s just not my vibe. I never was good at it. I always alienated people along the way. I never kissed the right ass. It was a disaster. It was bound to change.”
Fifteen years after launching her majorlabel career, that evolution fully materializes on “Liberman,” which, from the celestial murmur “Take It Easy” through its dreamlike finish, was “made to be that soothing, cool feeling on the brain.” On the road, while supporting “Liberman” as well as her recent release, “Earlier Things Live,” a sixsong collection of early-career staples like 2004’s “White Houses,” she hopes to nurture more Pride-type connections – sans politics, though.
“It’s just about human beings and dissection of emotions of humans and connection and fear and beauty,” she said. “If I can highlight that in a time like this – I guess this tour is a good time to play this record.”
Her mood, about human rights and even her purpose these days as a musician, strikes the same general chord as the world at large: uncertainty. Her blood pressure rises just talking about President Trump and how his administration could strip her friends and family of their inalienable rights, so when asked to shift topics – from politics to music – she happily obliges with a “no, please!”
But there’s hope yet, and it’s the music, a glorious escape. “It really calms me down playing it,” she said of “Liberman.”
The truth is, though: It’s as much a refuge for her as it is for us.
Vanessa Carlton, who came out as bisexual at Nashville Pride in 2010, plays City Winery on March 18. (Photo by Emilia Paré)