When the wonderful Whiskeytown were spawned, the idea was for Ryan Adams to be complimented vocally by violinist Caitlin Cary. It was to be her Emmylou Harris to his Gram Parsons, if you will. However, if you listen to the band’s three albums it will become clear that this union was never fully realised. Adams dissolved Whiskeytown, and deciding he would have Emmylou Harris as his Emmylou Harris on his first album, embarked on the erratic path that is his solo career.
Cary, meanwhile, quietly went about the honest business of making authentic country music that meant something to her, and has two excellent solo albums to her name. Now, it seems, she has found her Gram Parsons in Nashville’s troubadour of twang Thad Cockrell, who apart from possessing a bizarre first name, also has two albums under his belt. The two teamed up in 2004 with the result being Begonias, which while suffering from some wince-inducingly bad lyrics at times, is a quite gorgeous collection of country shuffles and mournful ballads that not only evoke Gram and Emmylou, but original pioneers of American duetting George Jones and Tammy Wynette.
They brought their now very polished live show to a hot and sweaty Borderline, with a loving and surprisingly knowledgeable crowd in front of them.
Much of Begonias sounded brilliant. The album’s finest track, Cary’s Please Break My Heart is the night’s best moment, closely followed by the cheesy but marvellous Two Different Things. Indeed, these two lay on the schmaltz with a trowel – there is a lot of intense gazing at each other whilst singing – but somehow the sheer quality of the songs and genuine emotiveness of the aching harmonies override this. A revealing insight into Cockrell’s love life is Conversations About A Friend (Who’s In Love With Katie), and the whole evening is sequinned by a raucous mid-set cover of Dylan‘s Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You. All night Cary and Cockrell are supported ably by a fine band, including one Rich Gilbert on pedal steel whose solos brought evocations of wide prairies and tumbleweed to the dungeon that is the Borderline.
Between song patter included a moan about the lifelessness of Maidstone (“more like Tombstone”, says Cockrell) and a plea to the crowd to buy Cary bourbon on the rocks. Soon there is a carpet of whiskey-filled glasses on stage as the faithful dutifully responded to her request.
Now here’s the thing. Cary is a tremendously talented lady, and we would possibly have 21st century country superstar on our hands here, if she were, err, better looking. Were she a svelte, silver-haired minx (like Emmylou) she would no doubt be queen of Nashville and strutting her stuff at awards ceremonies. As it happens, Cockrell is a portly, hairy gentleman and no oil painting himself. It truly is all about the music with these folk.