Earlier this year, Nashville’s Caitlin Rose attacked stale country assumptions and shook up expectations with brash rock ‘n’ roll attitude to accompany her hip-slung country-girl charm on her Dead Flowers EP. On her debut full-length, Own Side Now, Rose has traded in a handful of her volatility for straightforward indie-country pop song craft. And the trade has treated her well.
Rose still compares favourably with her inspirations – Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline and Linda Ronstadt – but she seems to have settled down into her role as a budding country starlet. Certainly, the country-punk attitude is missed a bit; there’s nothing here to match Docket’s “The Surgeon General can suck on my dick.” But this is not patently a bad thing – curtseying, cowboy-booted charm fit Rose’s style a bit closer than fuck-you tambourine shaking did in a lot of ways.
Own Side Now is a quieter, more introspective album, but it also features a lushness that seemed unlikely given Rose’s winking bluegrass-tinged debut. The arrangements have gotten more elaborate – swirling strings, the twang of a Telecaster, crying pedal steel, B3 organ solos, and honky-tonk piano – but Rose still comes across as savvy and cocksure in the centre of it all.
The album was produced by Mark Nevers, and the analogue recording equipment – coupled with an astounding cast of some of Nashville’s best session players – gives Own Side Now a comfortable, worn-in feel that’s largely missing from Nashville country these days.
Learnin’ To Ride opens the album with sunny, subtle beauty. Rose croons, “When I was young, I used to ride the wild ones,” and “Now all I need is a simple steed; take me where I want without putting up a fight.” All the while, brushed drums and aching pedal steel give her voice just the sort of effortlessly lovely background it deserves. Sure, she’s riveting when she’s riffing on her anger, but her quieter moments stand out here.
For The Rabbits is soulful in its half-time groove, organ and tremolo guitar melding in the foundation. “Habit’s the only place that you call home,” Rose sings as she begs a scorned lover to come home to her “absent arms” and “routine disaster.” Shanghai Cigarettes chugs under the spotlights like Kris Kristofferson in his prime. Rose warns: “Trying to quit will make you wish you didn’t start, cos the pack is as empty as the hole in your heart.”
New York City seems written from a hotel window high up; Rose plays the bewildered, transplanted country girl with off-the-cuff perfection. “So I’ve got lost on the lower east side, cos I pissed off my tour guide,” she sings. “I was lucky to be alive underneath these city lights.”
The haunting, acoustic Sinful Wishing Well finds Rose wondering when she’ll hit the bottom. “In the dark, you know I’ve seen it, but you know that I don’t mean it from the bottom of my angry broken heart,” she sings. In stark contrast, the album’s closer, Comin’ Up, is noisy country boogie-woogie at its most exuberant. This time Rose doesn’t just throw down her tambourine; she seems to have left the stage for the band to jam as morning comes up.
She may have cut a slightly different path than she hinted at on Dead Flowers, but make no mistake: Caitlin Rose is the best thing to come out of Nashville in a long damn time.