Caitlin Rose "Own Side Now" (Names Records, 2010)
Believe the hype
Following the substantial acclaim she received in the UK press upon the release of her 'Dead Flowers' EP several months ago, Caitlin Rose’s full-length début carries with it a substantial weight of expectation.
Such hype rarely endears an artist to the hipster demographic and already words such as "overrated" are creeping into discussions of her output. Thus, not only does the album have to deliver on the promise many saw in her earlier work, it must also triumph over the contrarianism which characterises many genre music fans. But happily, whilst a serious debate may be needed regarding the media’s increasingly hysterical and schizophrenic attitude towards emerging artists, even the most cynical are likely to concede that in this case the plaudits are justified.
It also has not escaped the notice of many commentators that Rose possesses several natural advantages in the music business. Yet the only ones that are actually germane here are her immense vocal charms and native songwriting talent. Her voice is undoubtedly a thing of beauty, its timbre always warm and inviting, whilst she demonstrates impressive dynamic control, seeming capable of going from winsome to Patsy Cline in the space of a single bar. Even if she occasionally sounds overstretched on some of the crescendos, this lends a fragility to the sound which only emphasises its tender qualities.
Rose’s songwriting, meanwhile, has attained both immediacy and depth, dispelling all the lingering traces of self-consciousness which could be heard on the EP. It’s pure country music, of course. There’s not a hint of "alternative" about it and it needs no such modish qualifications. Her intimate familiarity with the traditions of the genre, from classic honky-tonk through 70s country-rock to the modern diaspora, allows her to craft something which at once celebrates the form whilst simultaneously refreshing it. It’s a timeless sound which could’ve been produced at any time in the last seventy years, yet one that retains an urgency and relevance. Only in the thoroughly modern lyrical attitude could you discern many of these songs' origins.
It’s also an impressively taut and consistent collection. There isn’t a single song which feels undeserving of its position on the album, from the gentle folk of 'Learnin’ To Ride' to the country boogie of 'Comin’ Up'. However, if we had to pick highlights, then at the top of the list you’d probably find 'Sinful Wishing Well', a plaintive melody so archetypal it could’ve been plucked straight from the collective unconsciousness; alongside the well-chosen first single, 'For the Rabbits', whose pleasantly lilting verse gives way to a quite devastating chorus, whilst arpeggiated chords shivering with tremolo and reverb make it sound as if it should be playing in the background of some David Lynch film.
Indeed, the material is augmented throughout by sensitive arrangements and production, which embellish the material without ever overwhelming it (the strings on the title track should be held up to all country music producers as an object lesson in how to orchestrate a song without smothering it in sentimentality). It all adds to that overriding impression of enveloping warmth which so defines the album, and whilst it may lack the weight of a release by an artist with a substantial back-catalogue already under their belt, rarely do you hear such an assured and engaging début.
On this evidence, Caitlin Rose thoroughly deserves her rapid elevation into the country firmament and if the standard is maintained, there can only be greater things to come.
Date review added: Tuesday, August 03, 2010
Reviewer: Kai Roberts
Related web link: Artist's myspace