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A decade-plus has passed since we've heard an album's worth of material from Carlene Carter, during which interregnum she was making what Tom Waits has called "the wrong kind of headlines" in her personal life and enduring a true annus horribilis in 2003 with the deaths of three blood relatives (mother June Carter Cash, stepfather Johnny Cash, and sister Rosey) and her longtime companion (and producer), Howie Epstein. Musically she's been quiet most of that time, too, at least in the U.S., save for tribute performances here and there. Stronger is more than a pleasing return to form -- it's a knockout punch that references the past even as it moves Carter into a dynamic present tense. Credit for some of the musical muscle must go to producer (and Doobie Brother) John McFee, with whom Carter collaborated back in 1979 on her Two Sides to Every Story LP. Among the dozen tunes here is a searing, stomping remake of Carter's wry 1980 classic, "I'm So Cool" and, finally, her own rendition of "It Takes One to Know One." Heretofore heard only in Johnny Cash's recorded version, this beautiful, intimate country ballad penned by a 19-year-old Carter as a birthday present for her stepfather looks back on their relationship with palpable love, revelatory insight, and a smidgen of regret. But there is much healing going on in the new songs, in the tear-stained personal history chronicled in the rockabilly-tinged barn-burner "The Bitter End," in the buoyant, soaring country rock celebration of salvation through love in "Bring Love," and most dramatically in "Stronger," the hymn-like, string-enriched revelations of a "hell-raising angel" who survived it all and has emerged with new purpose. It's great to have her back.