Caitlin Rose sings old country. It’s not Hank Sr. old, but it’s old country. It captures the heart of country music. Rose’s vocal quality has a sweetness to it and her vocals are easy to understand. It all comes together in a sound that, if it didn’t have a steel guitar, some of us might be tempted to call “Americana.” The Stand In is a good album that takes listeners through a range of emotions, with one unifying quality being Rose’s undeniable vocal talent.
From the initial guitars on the opening track, it’s evident that Rose has not created a typical country album. In fact, it’s not always country. At times it feels like it could be called “alt country.” On the opening “No One to Call” the steel guitar makes it a clear country song, but some of the guitars feel very much like classic rock. The overall sound is catchy and enjoyable, getting the album off to a smile-inducing start.
“Lovin’ you is the hardest thing to do sometimes…” is the opening line of “I was cruel.” The heartache evident throughout the song is quintessential “country” music. What really makes the song, as with the album writ large, is Rose’s distinctive vocal quality. It’s smooth and sweet, complimenting the genre and, in this case particularly, the lyrical message of the song. She is, in a sense, admitting her guilt with the words, “I never knew I was cruel… baby ’til I met you.” There’s an obvious sense of facetiousness to the song. It’s entertaining, no less.
“Only a Clown” sounds very familiar. It’s not even a country song really. It has a feeling of classic Americana music that brings to mind the late 60s. While it doesn’t capture any other band, per se, there’s an intriguing sound. The harmonies on this song are especially good. “Put your record on. Let the band play a song all about love and believin’…” From this lyric it seems like a hopeful song, but again it takes a sort of skeptical turn. She appears to be offering her love to someone who seems to be leaving it unrequited. See what I mean about the deep emotion? Such good songwriting.
Caitlin Rose is her best when singing softer music. Although the majority of the album does not follow that pattern, “Pink Champagne” might be the best song on the album for exactly that reason. Again, the minimal arrangement highlights Rose’s exquisite vocals. “Let’s drink ourselves another glass of pink champagne…” makes references to classic American music, while having its own unique sound, with a minor turn in the melody line that is quite satisfying. Too fast for a slow dance, to fast for dance track, this is a sit back and enjoy song. I get the sense classic country artists of the 70s a la George Jones, Dolly Parton, and even Chet Atkins would really appreciate what Rose is doing here.
“Everywhere I Go” begins with ambient strings and a solid bass drum. Rose’s lyrics reflect a global sensibility, including the philosophical, “no matter where I go, there you are.” It’s an existential treatise about love and connection and transcendence. Ultimately a love song, the sound is much more “pop” than the rest of the album and really could find a home on “soft rock” radio.
“Thinkin’… I’ve been thinkin’ bout leavin’ this old town behind.” Again, thoughtful lyrics and a beautiful melody drive Rose’s opening line on “When I’m Gone.” The song itself has a simple premise. She is clearly frustrated with the men in the town where she lives, so she’s contemplating leaving. It’s full of angst and, again, a 70s capture. Some of the guitar backing on this track is really full and relaxing. Although it may not have my favorite lyrical message, it is possibly the best overall “sound” on the album. It just feels like a complete piece.
“Old Numbers” opens with jazzy horns, which is always welcome for me. Rose brings in a sassy 20s sound on her vocals on this track, helping to bring us to a spirited end to the album. “Seems like you’ll always be stuck with old numbers…” is a somewhat silly song about old flames who left their number with her. While somewhat laughable, the song itself harkens back to a time of pinups and playboys. It’s a fun way to end an enjoyable album.
What makes The Stand In such a good album is the variety of influences evident in Rose’s songwriting. She makes several nods of respect to the classic artists who have come before her. Yet, in the midst of those styles, she has a remarkable ability to be herself. It would be great to hear her do a stripped down acoustic album. Her vocals are so smooth that she would be incredible in that format. Here’s hoping. Until then, this album will find a welcome place in the players of fans of 70s country and pop music. It’s a timeless sound that will have many people smiling at twangy steel guitars and Rose’s smooth vocals.