Caitlin Rose, live review

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Posted 18 Sep 2010 in Music, Reviews

Caitlin Rose is a young, hugely talented singer and songwriter from Nashville, and her gorgeous debut, Own Side Now has been pretty much the only record I’ve listened to over the last month or so. It’s a simple, beautiful country record, which by virtue of its loveliness has done a great deal to win me over towards a genre towards which I’m normally skeptical – the sainted Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt and Evan Dando aside. Country music is one of the types of music which comes with so much baggage, and there’s an in-built cultural (and sometimes political) conservatism present, particularly in the Nashville scene, which I’ve always worried about.

Caitlin’s songs, steeped in the sounds of her youth as they are, do have a nostalgic charm and a clear reverence for tradition, but that doesn’t prevent them from being individualistic, spiky and modern, and her performance at the Latest Music Bar in Kemp Town the other night just confirmed what a terrific star she could end up being. I wonder how she goes down in her home town – by rights they should be crowing at the fact that Nashville continues to produce gems like her. In reality, they may well be too caught up in the past to notice.

Either way, she arrived in Brighton on Tuesday with a small, energetic band (steel guitar, tele and bass) and absolutely rocketed through 14 beautiful songs, the majority her own, with a couple of lovely covers thrown in. On the one hand, she was clearly nervous, particularly when her bandmates left her on her own to play a beautiful, soft cover of Randy Newman’s lovely ‘Marie’. On the other, she is a complete natural, and dominates the stage from the get-go, leaning back to open up her wonderful vocals, or leaning conspiratorially into the mic to tell us about the clothes she bought that day. She has, in common with artists like Emma Lee Moss and Rosa and Katy from Peggy Sue, a winning sense of good humour and an ability to make a crowd feel part of the show, rather than just spectators. Encouraging a small audience to try a call and response lyric can fall flat at the best of times, so when Caitlin effortlessly persuaded the room to yell along with ‘Bottles’, it was just another in a sequence of small triumphs.

In a beautifully calibrated set, there are a number of spine-tingling moments. When she, in ‘Own Side’, assumes a sorrowful croon, lamenting a failed relationship, and declares “I’m going out / on the town / said I’m tired of chasing you down”, it’s simultaneously the voice of someone wiser than her years, and completely convincing, despite her youth (Rose is, sadly, like Laura Marling, doomed to endless references to her precocity in the press she accrues). Before ‘Spare Me’ she introduces her bandmates but tells us that she is Abraham Lincoln, and instructs us, should we address her, to use “Abraham, or Old Abe, or Honest Abe. Anything with Abe in it will do”. “You are America’s greatest President”, someone assures her.

‘For The Rabbits’ is incredibly moving. Two thirds through, her guitarist, Jeremy Felzer, unleashes a short, stunning, teardrop-strewn solo, and when Caitlin notes “Looking back at myself / It’s wrong how much I’ve changed for you”, you can feel hairs stand on end throughout the room. Her two subjects seem to be – fittingly, given the country tradition – songs about getting drunk, and songs about regret. The latter is evident in ‘Shanghai Cigarettes’, with its beautiful, tossed off line, “Remember the day the whole thing started? / and the little gold box in the glove compartment”.

Of the remaining tracks, there’s no one more worthy of praise than another – ‘Dockets’ is impossibly charming, ‘Marie’ delightfully pretty, ‘Sinful Wishing Well’ absolutely sad, and ‘Bottles’ gloriously uplifting. “Drink a one”, she sings, “Drink a two – I’m drinking just for you, the only answer I have found is to drink more”. When she cries, “Take it darling!”, teeing up a terrific Steel Guitar solo, she’s Nashville to the core. She’s repeatedly pulled back on stage at the end and her final bow, ‘Things Change’ is the clincher – written, she notes, by her ex-boyfriend (“What a dick”) – it’s the perfect finale – sad, regretful, drink-sodden and somehow, sweetly, surprisingly uplifting. Once again, her beautiful, clear voice, adds resonance and weight to the words – when I hear “And I feel like crying, but I don’t know why / because I know, love never dies”, I’m completely transported. “No, I never wore your wedding ring”, she sings, “I regret I never could”.

Sadly, this was the last date on Caitlin’s UK tour, but her new single, ‘Shanghai Cigarettes’ is out presently – and you can see a video I made of her playing it below – and I’m sure she’ll be back. When she is, make sure you see her; heart heavy, drink in hand, and be ready to grin your face off.

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