fri 21/10/2016

Caitlin Rose, The Windmill | New music reviews, news & interviews

Caitlin Rose, The Windmill

Only 21 but this young Nashville singer-songwriter is special

Caitlin Rose sounds like Caitlin Rose: there’s no greater compliment

Last night was the third and probably last time this 21-year-old Nashville songstress will grace the humble Windmill pub in Brixton with her charismatic yet down-to-earth presence. Not because the gig wasn’t a sell-out and an unqualified success, but because of the radio airplay and unanimous critical praise she has received for her debut album Own Side Now from everyone from the Daily Mail to the Independent. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if by this time next year she’s performing at the Union Chapel or even the Barbican.

I’ve never seen a Windmill crowd so attentive to an act before. For much of the concert all chatter ceased, as did all business at the bar. I wasn’t sure if this was down to the fact that audience members didn’t want to risk losing their precious square foot of space, or because all the bar staff were up at the stage end of the bar, clapping and singing along to the band.

There’s something of our very own Cilla - circa 1965 - about Caitlin’s in-the-eyes fringe and slightly chubby face, which, along with her quick and easy wit, makes her instantly likeable. The first thing she said on this humid Monday evening was that it was a pleasure to be performing “in this moist place”. Only someone who cares about words as much as Ms Rose does would have landed on “moist” to describe the Windmill last night, even though that's exactly what it was.

And things got more moist as the evening progressed, with poor young Ms Rose good-humouredly commenting on the lack of air conditioning, and mopping her befringed brow at regular intervals. Early in proceedings someone shouted out for what could be described as her novelty song, “Gorilla Man”, from her Dead Flowers EP. “No!” she shouts back. “Gorilla man is dead!”

Which brings us to the subject of her music.The only disappointment was that the band were only a three-piece and so we didn’t get any of the lush, but not too lush, arrangements of Own Side Now. In fact we didn't even get a drummer.

But it’s only a very minor complaint. You know how contrary we critics can be; in a year’s time I’ll probably be reviewing Ms Rose at the Royal Festival Hall and reminiscing about how much better her songs sounded stripped down to just two guitars and a bass. Because what we got last night were watercolour versions of the finished oils of the album, and that was just fine. Jeremy Fetzer filled out the sound nicely, producing a clear fluid tone from his telecaster and occasionally taking up the pedal steel parts from the album and making them his own. And Jordan Caress played agreeably melodic bass lines as well as unobtrusive backing vocals which blended perfectly with Caitlin’s voice.

She’s an adept architect of the extended metaphor, building songs out of the most modest of conceits

“Answer in One of These Bottles” became the crowd-pleasing singalong moment with its wry couplet, “There’s an answer in one of these bottles, you know,/ so I’m going to drink until I forget the question.” But for me it’s the way Ms Rose tackles the well-worn path of the love song that makes her such a compelling new talent, delivering home truths to jaded lovers and rarely sugaring the pill. So songs like “For the Rabbits", “That’s Alright” and “Learning to Ride” were the highlights.

I find myself wondering if she’s an admirer of Elvis Costello. Like Costello she’s an adept architect of the extended metaphor, building songs out of the most modest of conceits. Yes, country music (the label which Rose prefers over any other) has always had its tales of woe and heartbreak, but not necessarily delivered with the degree of edge, attitude and wit that she squeezes out of a disintegrating relationship: there’s very little masochistic stand-by-your-man sentimentality in a Caitlin Rose song.

When we reached the end of the show, the gorilla man was still shouting out for “Gorilla Man” so Ms Rose reluctantly obliged. And then she swore that she’d never sing it again, before adding that she probably would. And it was this kind of quirky rapport with the audience - juxtaposed to the studio-quality perfection of her vocals and the inarguable excellence of her songs - that kept the audience enraptured and made me feel that I’d been in the presence of an artist at the beginning of a very long and successful career.

Yes, you can hear Patsy Cline and Linda Ronstadt in there somewhere, but as another critic has already noted, above all Caitlin Rose sounds like Caitlin Rose. Catch her soon at a bigger venue near you.

Watch a short profile of Caitlin Rose (YouTube):

There's something of our Cilla - circa 1965 - about Caitlin's in-the-eyes fringe and slightly chubby face

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