Caitlin Rose is one of those timeless country talents, and a bold, fresh look at what made country music so appealing to begin with. But to label her as strictly country is a bit unfair; she’s country the same way as Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash. If her debut EP Dead Flowers is any hint of what her full-length will offer later this year, she’s primed to give Nashville a tambourine-toting run for its money.
Vocally, she’s got a rich and deep heritage behind her; in that department it’s impossible not to compare her to Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris or June Carter. But she’s also got a distinctly modern sensibility, and she fits in well with – and perhaps stands out from – the current pack of vintage-sounding leading ladies. There are shades of Jenny Lewis, Kimya Dawson and Zooey Deschanel, but Rose has a gutsy quality that sets her apart.
Dead Flowers opens with the bluegrass-tinged teen pregnancy tale, Shotgun Wedding. Rose sings, “True love’s a shotgun wedding; you can’t plan it out,” before the band explodes in full foot-stomping force with mandolin, acoustic guitar and upright bass. Rose (only 19 when the album was recorded) comes across as in complete control, captivating the musicians who surround her.
Answer In One Of These Bottles is a swooning, drunken two-step. Rose sings, “Drink one, drink two. I’m drinkin’ just for you to find out what it is that happened to my heart,” and “I’m a’gonna drink ’til I forget the question.” This one belongs on the top shelf with Hank Williams‘s Tear In My Beer and Willie Nelson‘s I Gotta Get Drunk.
Docket is perhaps the best glimpse we get of Rose’s tongue-in-cheek toughness, and it plays well over the bare-bones acoustic guitar backdrop. She defends her vices in perhaps the most beguiling country lyric this side of Boy Named Sue: “I got a fresh pack, I got a red Bic. The Surgeon General can suck on my dick.”
Gorilla Man’s sassy, jangling acapella swagger smacks of big-sky schoolyard trash talk (“And now, you’re with some chimpanzee, and all she’s doin’ is apin’ me!”), channelled through the Appalachian hill tradition. The other side of this aesthetic is achieved beautifully in the aching closer, T-Shirt, at the end of which she tosses her tambourine down in disgust at the song’s end, in utter abandon and disengagement.
Of the two cover songs on the EP, the most notably awe-inspiring is the title track, a stripped-down rendition of the Rolling Stones‘ Dead Flowers. With its crying steel guitars and Rose’s bell-clear voice – which never once betrays her youth – this version carries a gut-shot heartache the original only hinted at; Rose certainly makes it her own.
Caitlin Rose is the kind of voice that comes round perhaps only a handful of times in a generation. And while she calls up images of generations gone by, she’s a perfectly modern blend of country music and rock ‘n’ roll attitude. To say she’s the new Willie Nelson would perhaps be a stretch, but her debut EP offers a rare brand of windswept promise.