14 January 2011

2010: Caitlin Rose, Call Me Lightning

Caitlin Rose
Own Side Now
Released August 9, 2010 (Names Record, Import only in the US)

Short Notes: A lovely, soft (but not especially delicate) piece of contemporary Americana.

Brandon: A-

First off, I’d like to apologize for the grade inflation I’ve been dealing in these last few weeks. Looking back, comparing my ratings with Lin’s, it’s easy to see I’ve been giving out consistently higher grades, especially to records that, in all honesty, I can’t imagine listening to much after this project is over. I’m not making excuses, but I’m a bit of a softie at heart. I want to like the music I have to listen to, and I think I’ve been pretty big-hearted as a result. That said, I did pick a big chunk of these records, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a number of them (Anais Mitchell’s, for example), especially those that tend to fall more clearly in my genre wheelhouse (Americana, especially) than they do Lin’s. In any case, I intend to be a wee bit more critical moving forward.

So, when I give this record an A- right off the bat, understand that I wanted an excuse not to. But I tend to stubbornly stick to a criteria given to me long ago by my friend Jay, who described a 4-star record as having three great tracks and no bad tracks. And this album, a beautiful slice of alternative country if ever there was one, not only tugs at my dedicated genre-loving heartstrings, but also brings the songs. If you like alt-country as I do (proudly a member of the twang nation since ‘96), there’s a lot to like here. She’s not as forceful a voice as Neko Case (although “For the Rabbits” reminds me of her, nor as singular as Gillian Welch, but she’s got a classic country sound that belies her status as an honest-to-god Nashvillian. This isn’t the agressive No Depression of Chicago, but a softer sort of alternative country, paying homage to the 60s-style production without ever sounding like anything other than an indie record. I love “Learnin’ to Ride,” “Own Side,” and “Shanghai Cigarettes,” (we’ve all smoked ‘em, yes?), with their harmonies and subtle twang, and the rest of the album is solid. This is an album I’ll be putting into rotation with Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and Revelator on cold Saturday afternoons for a while.

Lin: A-

One thing I need to do better at remembering is that not all music needs to be flashy. Just as it is with people, it's often better to spend your time with one that exudes a simple and subtle "force of will" than those that are IN YOUR FACE all the time. It stems from confidence, more often than not, as those content in their actions and beliefs have nothing to prove to the galley. I harp a lot on music needing to assert itself above the din of other things demanding my attention. (If it doesn't, what's the point?) This does but without garishness or embellishment.

If anything, this album reminds me more of vocal jazz than alt country. The country is there, but as the base instead of the garnish. It's surprisingly refreshing in this way. Neko Case isn't a horrible comparison, though I'm ultimately uncomfortable making it with any strength. Things do run out of steam towards the end, but the first half of the album is one of the best sides I've heard while doing this project. Each of the five tracks may end up being a home run -- I need to give it some more listens to see if they'll be able to leg it out -- but they're all at least a stand up triple.

Call Me Lightning
When I am Gone My Blood Will Be Free
Released July 20, 2010 (Dusty Medical Records)

Short Notes: Named after The Who, but sounds like Future of the Left. Also, the records melts faces.

Brandon: A

Jesus Christ. I make a big point of saying how I want to be more critical, and then I go and give out nothing but high grades. But I’m not exactly sad, either, because I got to listen to this really great record from a Milwaukee band with a big sound. I’ve been trying to think of how to describe this record to other people, and the best I can come up with is that they meld the lyrical weirdness of Queen’s first few records with a sound that reminds me of the late, lamented McLusky or their successor, Future of the Left. This record is full of heavy riffs and high energy, and I’ve been listening to it non-stop for the last two weeks. It sounds like the biggest basement show punk you’ll ever hear--standout tracks like the title track, the opener “Called to the Throne,” and the aptly named stomper “Pure Shit” remind me of the best parts of those low-ceilinged all ages shows we do so well in the upper Midwest. If you enjoy non-doctrinaire, sleazy, weird punk rock, get a hold of this record right quick. Highly recommended.

Lin: B

I'll defer to Brandon on this one. The album is such that, were Call Me Lightning coming through my town, I'd absolutely go. It's an old, sad, refrain and sadly an all too common one: whatever live prowress they (I'm assuming) possess is lacking on the record. I can see this one improving with time and with volume; the album did on both accounts -- the last two tracks ("Follow Me" and "We Never Left") being my favorites.

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