If you fell in love with Nashville’s Caitlin Rose and her garlanded 2010 debut album, Own Side Now, you were in good company. Led by her golden nectar voice, an irrepressible personality matched with a gift for emotionally direct songwriting, and deliciously melodic country sounds, Caitlin Rose beguiled and flat-out, jaw-droppingly impressed wherever she turned.
At 25, Caitlin Rose returns with her follow up album, The Stand-In. The scope of her progression as an artist is palpable from the outset, and Rose herself concurs.
“I have a tendency to work small so this album is like my first attempt at a high kick,” acknowledging Own Side Now as a more pared down recording.
With the warm and rousing, full-band depth of ‘No One to Call’, she immediately signals not only her personal growth but the maturing of the musical relationships within the band, and crucially, the sense of a collective pull in the same direction.
“Self-exploration isn't something to take lightly and I learned a lot about myself this time around, but this was more of a team effort than anything I've ever done.”
Working with old friends, Nashville producers and musicians Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson, and her bandmates Jeremy Fetzer (electric guitar) and Spencer Cullum (pedal & slide guitar), her crew was tightly bonded.
“I never saw myself making the record without them,” she says of Fetzer and Cullum. “We carved out a sound together both travelling as a trio and as a full band. The two of them have created a rare chemistry that is difficult to come by. They work so well together musically, but also there’s a friendship there that makes any tracking or live situation easy to thrive in.”
Rose and her crew handpicked local Nashville musicians they knew would accentuate individual songs, with a veritable orchestra of players contributing cello, violin, saxophone, trumpet and mandolin. Careful pre-production deliberations concerning arrangements, a focus on achieving the best performances and a highly conducive studio atmosphere have paid off, with wildly good results.
“Vance Powell's mixing which really took what we had and morphed into this monster that it is now,” Rose explains. “His ears and instincts are spot on. There are a lot of differences in sounds according to feel and he really paid attention to these songs, which is much appreciated.”
There’s also the small matter of Rose’s songwriting collaboration with Gary Louris (The Jayhawks), on two songs.
“Gary and I got on like bandits,” she grins. “Collaboration is supposed to be fun, if it's not you should just stick to writing by yourself. It often brings out the best in me, though.”
It’s hard not to agree, with ‘Only a Clown’ an epic, sky-blue horizon, wind-in-your-hair road trip of a song that sounds fifty feet tall but is somehow contained within three-and-a-half minutes, and ‘Silver Sings’ a properly cranking pop song, with Rose’s vocals as stunning as ever.
On the flipside is ‘Golden Boy’, one of the songs Rose wrote on her own, and could be considered the emotional heart of the album.
“It's the closest we came to one aspect of what I would like to achieve musically. I've been big on that 1950's Hollywood soundstage vibe, and felt the need to try something dramatic.”
With its swoonsome strings and woozy pedal steel, ‘Pink Champagne’ is also a hat tip to silver screen musicals. “Inspired by a Joan Didion story called Marrying Absurd,” Rose says. “Her essays were sort of my foray back into writing. She created a character in my mind that I wanted to live through for a minute, and ‘Pink Champagne’ is the result.”
This is an album that contains multitudes though. ‘Everywhere I Go’ is brimful with heartburst emotions and the aching rush of first love. There’s ‘Waitin’, a vampy, rollicking ‘done-you-wrong’ song that kicks like a mule, with killer soul revue backing vocals. Classic ragtime, complete with massive opening drum fill even gets a showing, with album closer, ‘Old Numbers’ (you know those ones, you keep them in your phone, just in case).
“My obsession with Bob Fosse went into overdrive after we wrote this. Cabaret, All That Jazz, Lenny. These were all big inspirations for me in the record personally. Fosse himself is a subject I am fascinated with and he's been a driving force in my creativity for a while now. He's a devil on my shoulder that I am more than happy to oblige.”
The outpouring of acclaim Caitlin Rose generated with her debut is about to become a deluge. The Stand-In is Caitlin Rose unabashedly stating her case for being at the very forefront of the burgeoning ‘New Nashville’.