Caitlin Rose – “Own Side Now” + Laura Cantrell “Kitty Wells Dresses”

Caitlin Rose "Own Side Now".

Caitlin Rose “Own Side Now”.

Just as all who are con­sumed by dra­ma will one day grav­i­tate to Shake­speare, so too any­one who’s seri­ous about the craft of song writ­ing will even­tu­al­ly home in on coun­try music.

It was to Nashville that Dylan trav­elled when he put aside his child­ish things to record the mon­u­men­tal Blonde on Blonde. And when he went back east, it was not to the Vil­lage but to Wood­stock so that he and the Band could re-imag­ined their musi­cal heritage.

That lega­cy is evi­dent today every­where. From Emmy­lou Har­ris, T Bone Bur­nett and Daniel Lanois to the new roots Amer­i­cana of Fleet Fox­es, Bon Iver and Iron and Wine.

Bob Dylan "Nashville Skyline".

Bob Dylan “Nashville Skyline”.

What’s so refresh­ing about the 24 year old Caitlin Rose is that she some­how man­ages to side­step all of that, with­out in any way ignor­ing it. Like Gillian Welsh, she man­ages to sound both time­less and contemporary.

But her debut album Own Side Now harks back not so much to the 70s as it does to the 50s. So that whilst Welsh is drawn to exis­ten­tial intro­spec­tion, Rose is felled by that Nashville peren­ni­al, a bro­ken heart. What they both share is a flaw­less capac­i­ty to fuse lyrics of sear­ing hon­esty with painful­ly beau­ti­ful melodies.

In For The Rab­bits for instance, Rose entreats her depart­ed man to,

Fall back into my absent arms, Fall back into rou­tine dis­as­ter, Habit’s the only place that you call home.

Fall back into my des­per­ate arms, Fall back into this old dis­as­ter, ‘Cos it’s bet­ter than spend­ing all your nights alone.”

It’s as much an accu­sa­tion as it is a plea, and is aimed equal­ly at her­self as it is at him. But the des­per­a­tion evoked is lift­ed and sent sky­ward by the Heav­en­ly vocals, and the com­bi­na­tion of pain and plea­sure that results is intoxicating.

It’s a stun­ning piece of work, and is one of the best albums in the last decade. At least. And, whilst she’s not part of any actu­al move­ment, there clear­ly does seem to be some­thing afoot, as it’s ter­rain that’s tra­versed sim­i­lar­ly by Lau­ra Cantrell in the states and, in a very Eng­lish way, by Lau­ra Mar­ling in the UK.

Laura Cantrell "Kitty Welles' Dresses".

Lau­ra Cantrell “Kit­ty Welles’ Dresses”.

Cantrell emerged in 2000 when her just­ly laud­ed debut Not The Trem­blin Kind was described by none oth­er than John Peel as pos­si­bly his favourite album ever. Her lat­est, Kit­ty Wells Dress­es makes that 50s con­nec­tion explic­it. The title track that the album opens with is Cantrell’s, but the oth­er nine are cov­ers of songs record­ed by the now 93 year old Kit­ty Wells, as she blazed a trail for Tam­my Wynette, Loret­ta Lynn and Dol­ly Parton.

But even when cov­er­ing songs orig­i­nal­ly penned in the 50s, there’s some­thing in the way that Cantrell deliv­ers them that ren­ders them simul­ta­ne­ous­ly time­less and yet some­how un-mis­tak­en­ly contemporary.

It’s this fusion of tra­di­tion and of the mod­ern that make Caitlin Rose and Lau­ra Cantrell so musi­cal­ly rel­e­vant, and it’s their vis­cer­al hon­esty that make their songs so emo­tion­al­ly engaging.