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Better late than never, singer-songwriter Theo Carracino releases his first album after 40 years away from music. Photo by Laurie L. Ward

Like many singer-songwriters, Theo Carracino is a storyteller. While relaying a tale or painting a musical portrait of a person are standard tropes, Carracino boasts an especially narrative voice in his music. He brings a particular skill to bear that likely has a great impact on his process. Most of his professional life has been spent working as a journalist, telling the stories of the people in his communities. It’s work that has seen him live all over the country and offered encounters with intriguing folks of all kinds. From his origins here in North Texas to Philadelphia, Florida, Arizona, and Washington, D.C., and back again, telling the stories of all the interesting people he’s come across has been his life’s work.

Though Carracino’s stories have, for decades, made their way into print, now — though it’s taken a bit of time, to say the least — some of those stories have found their way into song. At the age of 73, Carracino just released his first album after a lifetime of being a musician. Better Than a Dream is a 15-song collection of tender fingerstyle folk aimed at bringing those people, as well as Carracino’s own experiences, to vivid life.

“I don’t think I necessarily learned empathy, but it certainly came out as a journalist,” Carracino said of his songwriting inspiration. “Just writing about people. Sometimes people in terrible circumstances. When you’re out there writing about people, you meet all kinds, and everyone has a story.”

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While it’s people and their stories that move him to write songs, it took him a long while to get around to it. Carracino began his music life “playing bad John Prine covers,” as he put it, in local restaurants, hotel bars, and lounges. He performed for a handful of years before he suddenly quit playing live entirely.

“I just realized that I wasn’t going anywhere,” he said. “I had this recurring nightmare that I was going to be 65 years old and the manager of a Ramada Inn was going to say, ‘Your Social Security check came in, Theo,’ ” he added with a chuckle, “so I just quit and went to college.”

That’s when he earned his journalism degree from UTA. While his professional life turned from music to newspapers, he continued to play guitar, honing his intricate melody-driven style. On an acoustic, his playing recalls Prine, plus Leo Kottke or, more similarly, largely unsung ’70s folk stylist Nick Drake.

Technical, yet beautiful, fingerstyle guitar isn’t the only parallel to the English singer-songwriter. Like Drake, Carracino also suffered from horrible stage fright. Coupled with the perceived lack of advancement, it led to his turn from live performances. After toughing out a particularly anxious set in front of a crowd of more than 600, he hung it up and wouldn’t perform again for nearly 40 years.

Ironically, perhaps, it was beginning to compose his own material that finally helped him break through the fear and try his hand on stages again. In 2019, Carracino went to an open-mic at the now-defunct Shipping and Receiving Bar and performed in front of strangers for the first time in almost four decades.

“I just got this wild hair,” he said. “I don’t know any other way to describe it. I hadn’t performed in 38 years, but I felt confident about these songs, and I wanted to see what the reaction was. I wanted to see what people who didn’t know me thought of them.”

The material was well received, and he found it gave him a surety of his craft that helped him overcome his former shyness.

“What really gave me the confidence is when I started writing my own songs,” Carracino said. “I believed in them. These are my thoughts. These are my perceptions of someone I’m writing about. I didn’t have any stage fright [performing again] because I was doing my own material.”

That initial open-mic opened a door to Carracino. There he met several other singer-songwriters. He was introduced to a whole music community, artists such as Jacob Furr, Jeff Gibbons, Hillary Tibbs, and Steve Obermiller, who all now consider Carracino a peer. His new contemporaries urged him to record the moving story-songs they saw him perform. Songs like “Margaret,” written about a resident in a rest home, or “Was My Son Not Enough” about the brutal mass shooting in Maine, or “The Damage Done,” a dark tale of addiction and the loss suffered by those affected by it.

Another encounter within the musical community led to Carracino finding an opportunity to actually document his songs for the first time. After attending the grand opening of Blackstone Recording Studios, new homebase for engineer Mark Randall (Eric Osbourne, Cameron Smith), Carracino received a voucher for half-off an afternoon recording session, which he eagerly cashed in. With Randall at the helm, Carracino tracked 13 of Dream’s 15 songs in February of last year, finishing the other two a couple months later.

As it always has with Carracino, it comes back to the people he’s met along the way.

“I owe a lot to many of the musicians I’ve met along the way over the last couple of years,” he said. “So many of them encouraged me to record these songs and get them out there, and I’m really pleased that I did.”

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