If there’s one thing that has held true with all the music I’ve adored the longest, it is great songs – rock, country or pop – never go out of style. Sorry, economists: there is no law of diminishing returns for timeless songwriting.
This is a truth exceptionally gifted Nashville-based songwriter Caitlin Rose understands better than most. The splendor of a great song will forever triumph over emerging trends, market analysis, focus groups, cheap gimmickry and soulless exploitation. Let the EDM masses bask in the interchangeable, fleeting orgasms of the Ultra Music Festivals and their ilk; I’ll take Caitlin Rose’s songs every damn time.
Released in March, I’ve been meaning to write about Rose and her excellent sophomore effort for a few months now. The months of consistent delight listening to The Stand-In have only reinforced my immediate prognosis that her songs will be beloved for long after the relentless sun of the summer music festival season has set. The Stand-In is a clear frontrunner for album of the year, and it exceeds all the promise Rose delivered on her 2010 debut, Own Side Now.
With a rich production that stands as tall as the enduring legacy of classic Nashville without settling for mere homage, Rose taps into the honest, emotional core of the best country and pop music has to offer. The Stand-In is an enriching and terribly gorgeous experience - brokenhearted and transient. Immersed in loving, leaving and being left behind, Rose (along with co-writers Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson, plus The Jayhawks’ Gary Louris on two songs) does wonders to illuminate the complexities of finding common footing in romance while never holding back on the abundance of steps and shed tears that come with any relationship worth a damn. She opens “Waitin’” with the observation “Every heart wants the upper hand,” seeing how right she was all along when she sings, “there’s love that’s new and all the rest / but the love that’s gone, baby, hurts the best / Have you been waitin’ on a broken heart?”
Of the romance at hand in “Menagerie,” Rose asks, “What’ll we do with a table for two lonely people with nothing to say?” Her solution? To break free of the expensive confinement and “dance all over broken glass / and destroy all of these beautiful things.”
She’s not afraid to be the first one to make a break when love is all wrong. In the fantastic “Only a Clown,” with its deeply satisfying George Harrison-esque guitar lead, Rose owns up to being a pitiable joke, singing “Let the band play / a song all about love and believing…’cause if that’s true / It’s only a clown that’s leaving.” On “When I’m Gone,” she claims she doesn’t even need her lover’s alibi, because she’s always running from the scene of the crime.
The clean breaks never work out as she would have them though. On “Everywhere I Go,” she comes to the stark realization “No matter where I go / No matter where you go / Here we are.” In a glass-half-full romance where distance makes the heart fonder, this would be the ideal for long distance love that works out.
However, in the world of The Stand-In, Rose’s subjects can’t ever shake past loves no matter how far they trek across the world (“Everywhere I Go” finds her skipping to Japan and “every other city and every other foreign land”) or how hard they try to block out the history. The intoxicating, jazz lounge jaunt of “Old Numbers” finds her routinely dialing up her ex in the middle of the night, because she “can’t help the memory of old numbers.” “Don’t blame me,” she pleads on the album closer, resigned to the knowledge that telephone wires hold more power than hardwired, but still human, synapses firing in her brain, “blame the memory of old numbers.”
At worst, these relationships can never be. At best, Rose’s protagonists are presently enamored, but they can’t shake the palpable sense that everything is ready to derail. In classic Nashville fashion, Rose is a constant seesaw of sharp-tongued strength and emotional vulnerability. “I Was Cruel,” a cover of The Deep Vibration’s 2011 song, fits in perfectly to the collection to demonstrate the fortitude that comes with breaking things off but the regret that results in discovering an accompanying fault (“I was never cruel / Baby, till I met you”). “Dallas,” the other The Stand-In cover, finds Rose channeling the exquisite heartache of The Felice Brothers’ original trek through Dallas, finishing with the dismantling revelation, “Just a three night run at The Palace / and I never in my life felt so alone.”
Even with 2013 being a new heyday for Music City, it’s hard to argue against Caitlin Rose being the finest, young songwriter in the Tennessee city of looming legends. The magic here – and there truly is an abundance of magic on The Stand-In – is Rose’s extraordinary ability to tap into authentic heartache and craft it into delightful songs that beg you to flip the record back over the second “Dallas” and “Old Numbers” burn away. Deceptively complex arrangements suit every song, allowing Rose’s sumptuous vocals and earnestness to swallow you up while the lush production (Rose, Lehning and Wilson) and musicianship calls to mind old-school Nashville heart with an unmistakable 21st Century core.
Rose resists the sanitation of technological innovation throughout every one of these blissful tapestries of loving and leaving, and we’re better off for her decision. You may think 21st Century country heartbreak songs played with guitar, keys, drums, pedal steel, piano, accordion, bass, Wurlitzer, B-3, strings and brass might be hopelessly outdated. You, of course, would be dead wrong, but chances are you have no intention of falling in love with Caitlin Rose’s music if that’s your mindset. Likewise, if you fear these songs - with their reliance upon landlines, dial tones, airwaves, radio hearts, compasses, little black books and memorized phone numbers – seem antiquated compared to iPhones and cloud computing, then you’re not ready for the timeless splendor of these songs.
For the rest of us who can painfully relate to the emptiness Rose feels on album opener “No One to Call,” The Stand-In is pretty much country perfection with hugely satisfying pop hooks and emotional resonance. “Static’s always rolling on the airwaves / So long ago my radio heart got broken / Now the songs I wanna hear they never play,” Rose sings. It would appear, having been resigned to “searching with a compass broken” after “changing the dial after every mile,” Caitlin Rose has taken it fully upon herself to make those very songs we want to hear that never seem to get played anymore.
We damn sure better be listening, because Caitlin Rose isn’t going anywhere and songs this magnificent will never lose their luster.
Caitlin Rose’s The Stand-In is out now via ATO Records.
*This review first appeared on Division St. Harmony on May 5, 2013.
Caitlin Rose - "No One to Call"
Caitlin Rose - "I Was Cruel"
Justin is a featured contributor to No Depression, and he resides on the outskirts of Indianapolis in Noblesville, Indiana. He writes his own music blog Division St. Harmony (@DivisnStHarmony), and he has been a senior contributor to The Silver Tongue and Laundromatinee.
Justin has an affinity for writing and music that is both rich in head and heart. Feel free to follow him on Twitter at @clashrebel & @DivisnStHarmony and on Facebook.
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