Caitlin Rose: The Stand-In
Caitlin Rose immediately proved she was someone to pay attention to with her debut EP in 2008. That disc featured covers of The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” and Patsy Cline’s “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray.” By the time her first proper album came out a couple years later, she was receiving a considerable amount of praise, and critics seemed in a rush to compare her voice to someone—anyone—who would work. While Rose has a quintessential country sound, she doesn’t quite match Loretta Lynn or Lucinda Williams or Wanda Jackson or Cline or Iris DeMent or whoever the quick pick was (though, for the record, I’ll put her closest to Cline, but with a mismatched attitude). There remains a need to match her voice to something, because it feels so familiar and so comfortable, but it doesn’t work because she’s found her own tone. On her new release The Stand-In, Rose, despite the album title, more firmly establishes herself as her own voice, largely by strongly inhabiting her characters.
Where the previous album, Own Side Now, was an assured piece of country, this album shows Rose’s confidence growing. The opening guitar chords, an assertive attack, tease at this development before letting “No One To Call” settle into a mid-tempo rhythm. The moment indicates the way the music works in general. The band’s tightness helps it establish mood and play with texture, but the group always stays out of the way, making sure The Stand-In remains a singer’s album throughout.
It’s a good choice. Rose demands attention. Her vocals are precise but effortless. She develops characters and gives them restrained emotion that presents her as a performer as much as “just” a vocalist, but without any theatrical excess. “Waitin’,” one of the album’s best tracks, provides the prime example. Rose sings from the position of someone not just hurt, but feeling misused. It’s a complex emotion, well explained by the lyrics about a lover who “was only waitin’ on a broken heart,” but better shown through Rose’s delivery, a mix of anger, frustration and pride (presumably born out of the singer’s ability to uncover and transcend her ex-lover’s odd destructive motivations).
Of course, great performances fail without quality material, and Rose provides that as well. Tracks like the encouraging “Only a Clown” and the languid “Pink Champagne” offer relatively straightforward but smart meditations. “Golden Boy” sounds like a direct song, with a dreamy feel close to early pop, but the lyrics don’t give way to easy explication, particularly because Rose gives them shades of meaning with her delivery and partly because the ethereal sounds obscure the earthy feelings presented. It’s an easy listen with difficult layers, and if Rose quickly secured her status as a top young voice in country music a few years ago, she’s now cemented her position as an important one.