Catching Stars and Songs with Caitlin Canty
In over five years of writing and posting stories here on the No Depression website, there has never been a performer nor a song, nor a topic, that has blocked my ability to sit down and write at will. While I’ve occasionally been challenged by how to find an entrance ramp, or sometimes stumped at where to find points of light in which the reader might find some interest, nothing has ever truly stopped me from punching away at the keys.
But, last November, I came into possession of four discs that I purchased at a concert after seeing this artist open for the Stray Birds. Then I put them aside and, in all honesty, forgot about them. Bad move. Then, in the midst of a cold New York winter, I found them covered in dust, started to listen to the music of Caitlin Canty, and was stunned when it took me beyond the stars. The tracks were laid for an avalanche of writer’s block.
I could have made this very, very easy on myself…here’s how:
Using the miracle of email, I could have sent Caitlin some questions. She could have responded. I would have written an opening, cut and pasted the emails, thrown in a video or two, told y’all to go out and see her play, buy her stuff and there it would end…a story finis. Fait accompli. And that is exactly what I began to do. For almost a month. Soon it was two. We traded more emails. I asked. She replied. I had more than enough to fill the space on a virtual page. I didn’t do a thing. I was catatonic.
Then I stopped listening to all music, except for one song.
An explanation: Throughout my life I have heard many songs that I consider to be perfect. They start, they proceed with precision, they touch something deep inside, they end. Now you might think it’s a rare thing to come across a perfect song, but I bet if you sat down and really thought about it, you’d come up with hundreds or perhaps even thousands. Sometimes a song is perfect (by the way, this is my descriptive phrase, not yours; I just choose to call them that rather than Fred or Ethel so don’t get hung up on definition) in a special moment or in a special way, or for no reason at all, sometimes simply because of repetition. It could be the one played on your wedding day, the one you danced to at your high school prom, the one they played forty times in a row on top forty boss jock radio. It doesn’t matter how or why. They touch you. They’re perfect.
In the middle of a brisk, snowy winter, it was this song by Caitlin Canty that I found to be my perfect song.
It’s a signature song. One that someone in Nashville might one day hear, give it to Faith Hill or Taylor Swift or whoever is hot at the moment. They could record it, get it air-played, put it into Walmart and on iTunes, and it could be one of only about a hundred songs per year that can earn enough money that the composer might see a pile of it in a – I feel a pun coming on – New York minute. In itself, surely, that doesn’t make it a perfect song. But it already is.
I beguiled the time by listening to “Southern Man” over and over. Encantadora. Con encanto. It was as if I was caught like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. While this song is special to me, as we wander down the streets of Canty County, I’ll share some others that have touched me as well.
Caitlin comes from a small town in Vermont, the daughter of a school teacher and a house painter. In addition to winning the Most Cheerful Girl award in first grade, she began playing trombone in the fourth grade and was more than just your average band kid. A self-admitted tomboy, she also did soccer and basketball, as well as adding her voice to the chorus. “I had a pretty idyllic upbringing – soccer championships where the whole town travels to the finals and puts up signs everywhere, parents who drove me to whatever recital or game or concert I was playing.”
She moved to Williamstown Massachusetts to attend Williams College, one of many in the area (and I believe it is also the alma mater of No Depression’s new owner, Chris Wadsworth). “I was a kid in a candy shop. I came from a small bubble (31 kids in my high school class) and entered a bigger bubble full of energetic nerds like myself.” She majored in biology, learned how to play guitar, studied songwriting and “then recorded an EP in the empty college radio station. I went to some open mics and recorded some songs in dorm rooms that hopefully never see the light of day. It was a brilliant place to be for those four years. I was brimming with curiosity and meeting good people.”
As someone who has grown up in the digital age, Caitlin has benefited from having great exposure to all sorts of music. At the same time, she has some fresh ideas on what defines success for today’s musicians: “I didn’t experience the good old days so I can’t really cry for their loss, and I had some idea what I was getting myself into. No one ever told me that making a living as an artist was going to be easy so I’m not that surprised or disappointed when it’s not.”
Golden Hour, which was a fan-funded album released two years ago and picked up for distribution, is her third solo release following Green and Neon Streets. While she often is playing solo, Caitlin has been blessed with a large number of fellow musicians with whom she plays and collaborates.
“Often it’s Harris Paseltiner from Darlingside, Matt Lorenz from Rusty Belle, Jefferson Hamer, Dietrich Strause, Rob Hecht or Rich Hinman. I’ve recorded a ton with Billy Conway and Jeremy Moses Curtis. I have amorphous bands in NYC and Boston comprised of brilliant rhythm players, and a revolving door of guitar, fiddle, pedal steel and whatever wild contraptions Dinty Child is playing.”
Her thoughts about her music, and the opportunity to be able to pay the bills at the end of the day: “I play music with talented friends in beautiful rooms where the beer flows generously and the audience can feel part of the joy we’re sharing on stage. I’m not making music for a museum, I’m making it for a bar, opera house, cabin or a bedroom. I have this naive belief that if I create a quality product and if I put energy behind getting it out into the world, someone somewhere will want to pay for it.”
One of my favorite songwriters out there today is Peter Bradley Adams, and Caitlin has a very unique partnership with him. “Peter and I spend all our lifeblood on our own solo music. But we love writing and singing together. Down Like Silver started as a side project where the only rule is our songs must be cowritten. Since we now live in different cities (Peter’s in Nashville), we record and release singles on iTunes and BandCamp when we get together (just did, check out “Light That Match“). It’s a fun collaboration and we spend zero time on promotion or booking gigs or building websites and intentionally growing our fan base. It’s a relief and never a drag.”
I got to see Caitlin perform a few weeks ago with Darlingside, college friends from Williams and a great band with whom she plays often. Just like the first time around, she simmered. A beautiful voice – both strong and deliberate. Her stage presence is radiant and her songs pack a big lyrical punch. Her cover of their song “Sweet and Low,” which she played that night with the band, will close out this post.
She told the audience that her new album, released later this year, will be produced by Jeffrey Foucault. It features a number of stellar players. Titled Reckless Skyline, she describes it as “twelve songs that veer nimbly between country ballads and straight-up rockers, dark blues, and sparsely arranged folk.”
She’s a most cheerful girl. Indeed. Award-winning.