A year ago this month, the music world lost Prince, who was arguably the most important artist of the 1980s. Three months earlier, Charlotte's Kevin Carter posted a video of himself to his Facebook page singing a track from Mercury, the homemade EP he'd just released on Soundcloud. I won't say there's any connection between these two events; any transference of spirit. But I will suggest it.
The first time I heard Kevin Carter was in a video of the singer performing at the Blumenthal's Charlotte Does Aretha tribute. Creative Loafing's news editor, Ryan Pitkin, had tipped me off. "You might want to take a look at this," he said. "This guy's pretty good."
Pretty good, to say the least. Amazing was more like it. I Facebook-friended Kevin and we chatted about getting together for an interview. I thought he'd make a good subject for our little MusicMaker Q&A column, where we catch up with veteran musicians that we haven't talked to in a while, or chat with interesting new musicians we think might bubble up some day.
Kevin and I met at Cabo Fish Taco in NoDa one afternoon, and he was delightful. He told me of his childhood years studying under the celebrated Northwest School of the Arts music-theater instructor Corey Mitchell. He told me of his teen years as a fashion prodigy whose Kevin Vain line got a lot of attention in Charlotte a few years ago. And we talked about his cover versions of songs by Aretha Franklin and other artists that he posts on Facebook.
I was still thinking our chat would make for a nice short piece on a young singer with an ungodly voice that soars from deep lows to heavenly highs. I figured he might blossom into a real contender one day. Heck, he may even turn out to be a star on Broadway.
Then he mentioned the EP of original songs that he'd recorded and put up on Soundcloud. I didn't know about it at the time. I hadn't heard it. He was proud of the project, he told me, and planned to make videos to go along with it — sort of like Beyoncé did with Lemonade. Nice, I thought.
Would I like to hear it?, he asked.
Sure, I said.
Kevin took me to his car, which was parked on North Davidson Street across from the Johnston YMCA. He got out his iPhone and plugged it into the sound system.
And the earth stood still.
What I heard blew my mind in ways I hadn't experienced since Fiona Apple's producer brought a few early tracks of the still-unknown singer's debut album Tidal to play for me in my office at Rolling Stone in the mid-'90s. Or when I first listened to an advance copy of Radiohead's OK Computer. From the speakers of Kevin's car came the most beautiful sounds I have experienced in years: layered harmonies, swirling in a sea of reverb, on a Gregorian-like chant with lyrics about a profound romantic loss.
The song was "Temple," the first track on Kevin's six-song EP.
He played other tracks: the rudimentary electronic beats and Prince-like vocals of "Falling Shadows"; the spooky, almost jungle-like sounds introducing "Whispers," with its unusual melody and harmonies, and a rap part halfway in that pans from speaker to speaker. To say Kevin's experimental song cycle is special would be to do it a disservice. Mercury is positively stunning.
I realized my little Q&A with Kevin needed to be bigger, and we decided to postpone the cover story we had scheduled for this week to shoehorn into this issue a cover story on Kevin Mercury Carter, a singer we all will be hearing much more from in the next few years. In that story, you can read about Kevin's journey from his childhood as a precocious pianist to his teen years as hot young fashion designer to his current young adulthood as a singer ready to take on the world. Kevin may not be Prince reincarnated, but that's only because his is totally and completely himself.
You can also read about a new film starring Kevin's early instructor Corey Mitchell, whose students at Northwest became the second troupe of high school thespians ever to stage the musical version of Alice Walker's The Color Purple. Their experience was documented in Purple Dreams, a film by Charlotte producer Robin Grey and director Joanne Hock that makes its world premiere this week at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham.
There's lots more in this issue, including an update on a guy who got drunk a few years ago, stole the Charlotte Knights' Homer costume and took to the streets of Uptown, and an arts piece on a local chef who also makes rune art and plans to prepare a meal of bugs for rich people in upstate New York. I will say no more. Just go read about it.