I WANNA BE DEANA CARTER’S BAAABY!

In polite society, no title would ever stoop to such truthfulness, but politesse and the Sports Desk (as canny readers will have remarked) often mix with little success, if at all. So stet that headline, mostly: I want to be Deana Carter’s baby.

This Saturday, April 26, the UMB Bank Pavilion will likely overflow with those who share that sentiment. Many, many local music lovers will spend their hard-earned shekels to see and hear not the putative headliner (Kenny Chesney) or even the putative second fiddle (Keith Urban) but Carter, who inexplicably ranks third on the bill.

The inexplicability of that rank will vex anyone who’s spun I’m Just a Girl, her latest CD, released in March by Arista Nashville. In a profile of Carter in the April/May Country Music, Alanna Nash characterized I’m Just a Girl as “seductive and winsome” and “a strikingly mature showcase”—and far be it for me to differ (at least on this point) with one of today’s preeminent journalists in the genre.

Rather, allow me to expand, however briefly and inadequately, on Nash’s characterization. Excluding at least one “global economy” release, a premature best-of compilation, and a Christmas CD issued by Rounder in 2001, I’m Just a Girl ranks as a worthy successor to Carter’s acclaimed debut, Did I Shave My Legs for This? (from 1996), and her underappreciated second disc, Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (from 1998).

By and large, the new release defines delight. In its design, the booklet to I’m Just a Girl mimics one of the racier “women’s magazines” that wilt in point-of-sale displays at most supermarkets; the inside front cover lists Carter as “executive director and editor-in-chief,” and the next page shows her reclining, tastefully, in a camisole and panties, as though voguing at a lingerie photo shoot. At least one thing, though, distinguishes Carter both from the average catwalk cutie and from certain of her contemporaries in country music (say, Sh*n** Tw**n) who vamp out of necessity to peddle their wares: her wit.

Although she looks like a sex kitten—the cover to I’m Just a Girl displays a delectable creature with kohl eyes and a solar smile, her tawny locks, from beneath an outsized touring cap, streaming to the sinister on a beachside breeze—Carter qualifies as a lioness musically. Beyond co-producing the disc with Dann Huff and presumably charting its overall presentation, she wrote or co-wrote its dozen tracks, many of which slyly undermine the CD’s nympho imagery.

By way of example, Carter’s “Eddie” describes a paramour much too commonplace for the Cosmo crowd, and “Liar,” which she penned with Aimee Mayo and Chris Lindsey, sounds a trifle too truthful for those supermarket POS displays. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Carter and Billy Mann’s title track and, especially, Carter’s “Girls’ Night”—respectively the opener and the closer here—relate a level of sexual individuality that would probably discomfort the average (read: dumb-ass) male.

All of the disc’s lovely opposites, stated and unstated, center on “Cover of a Magazine,” the fifth track. Carter, who wrote that track with Wendy Waldman, opens it by purring, “Man, look at that rack,” and with it, in all likelihood, she’ll confound any number of listeners regardless of gender.

The deadline for this listing looms, but that almost doesn’t matter. Do consider this dispatch from the Sports Desk less a portrait than a sketch: though other numbers on I’m Just a Girl (particularly “You and Tequila,” sung with Carter’s customary sultriness) merit praise, I could pass the days between the present and her St. Louis performance extolling the virtues of her work and do it no justice whatsoever. The best music inspires largesse; fired by enthusiasm, one purchases extras of a given release to press on relatives and friends. In the scant time since its appearance, I’ve already done that twice with I’m Just a Girl—and now, conceptually, I’m doing it again.

Indeed, I can’t help but wonder if Carter’s looking for roadies. If so, the Sports Desk may go untenanted for a time, because if she were to give me the nod, even in such a lowly vocational capacity, I’d follow her in a New York

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