Tambourine-wielding 23-year-old Tennessean Caitlin Rose had musical antennae wagging at the beginning of the year with her debut EP, Dead Flowers: an opening salvo which evinced a refreshingly ballsy yet ingenuous approach to the country idiom. One national newspaper dubbed her "the most exciting act in Nashville right now," which might be regarded as small beer by more cynical observers of contemporary country's mawkish power ballad predilection, although it should certainly have had fellow Nashvillians Lambchop and Cortney Tidwell looking to their laurels.
Delivering on that precocious promise, Rose's debut long-player actually reins in her EP's feistier extremes somewhat to deliver 10 tracks of timeless, simply adorned (albeit by some dextrously restrained Music Row stalwarts) song-craft which, while they certainly doff a 10-gallon hat to the country canon, never seem constrained by Nashville tropes, old or new. Sure, there are sobbing pedal steel guitars and twanging Telecaster licks, but for the most part the sound is based on unfussy acoustic guitars, brushed drums and slivers of Hammond organ, all in service of Rose's keening, compelling vocals.
Jaunty opener Learning to Ride is an elegant exemplar of this approachable indie/country/pop hybrid, while the less sunny Own Side offers a different lesson in crisp, country-rock economy. For the Rabbits, meanwhile, is a 1950s-tinged ballad bathed in delicious vibrato guitars; like Wanda Jackson covering Laura Veirs.
Much has been made of Rose's singing voice, a thing of yearning clarity which can't help but summon the ghost of country grand dames like Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, although she also brings a dreamier, Linda Ronstadt-like quality to the wistful New York City and there's more than a hint of Lucinda Williams' lived-in ache on the bruised Sinful Wishing Well–no mean achievement for such a stripling chanteuse.
Lyrically, she's perspicacious beyond her years, too. Indeed, the elongated smoking metaphor that pervades sprightly Shanghai Cigarettes (concluding with the poignant payoff couplet: "Trying to quit will make you wish you didn't start / 'Cos the pack is as empty as the hole in your heart") is worthy of George Jones in his pomp.
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