From her handful of more prominent moments as violinist and backing vocalist in Whiskeytown, one might have surmised what avenues Caitlin Cary might pursue in her own work. Perhaps sassy, twangy country, as on “Matrimony” from the band’s first album; maybe old-timey balladry, as on “The Battle”, her duet with frontman Ryan Adams on the group’s “Austin City Limits” appearance.
But one probably would not have guessed her debut EP — a modest, five-song affair produced by Chris Stamey — would be a dead ringer for circa-1970 English folk-rock, a la Linda Thompson, Sandy Denny and the Fairport Convention clan. The last track, a cover of Richard Thompson’s “Withered & Died”, lays any doubt of that influence to rest, but the impression is crystal clear from the opening number, “Sorry”, which could have been lifted straight from the loose-leaf pages of Liege And Lief.
Lest those observations suggest Cary’s music is overly imitative, understand that “Sorry” deserves to be placed in such esteemed company because the song really is that good. Co-written with Whiskeytown multi-instrumentalist Mike Daly, its gorgeous yet simple melody sounds ages old, supported by a gentle backbone of acoustic guitar and sweetly subtle touches of piano and pedal steel. The lyric, a heartfelt apology from a sister to her overshadowed sibling, is beautifully constructed and profoundly moving.
“Rosemary Moore”, a sympathetic nudge of encouragement to a widowed woman, is slightly more countrified, marking the first appearance of Cary’s fiddle. Here, too, the words marry the melody with a grace few songwriters manage, but which seems to come naturally to Cary. “Nursery Lie”, co-written with Stamey, is more playful both musically and lyrically, propelled by handclaps and snaps and living up to its title with a children’s-rhyme structure spiked by grownup barbs: “They say kids in school are cruel/Those fools have never met you.” Another solid Cary/Daly collaboration, “Big Town”, revisits the Fairport vibe, a fitting prelude to her fine reading of “Withered And Died”.
It’s hard to gauge any sort of career depth from a mere five-song introduction, but Waltzie at least raises the prospect that the fading-away of Whiskeytown may give rise to more than one seriously significant solo artist.