Caitlin Marie Bell’s vocals epitomize the folk genre. Now, by that, I don’t mean the new folksy bands that are creeping onto the top 40. Rather, I mean I can hear this girl opening for Peter, Paul, and Mary. I can hear her opening for Dylan. She’s got the timeless, almost back-to-Woody kind of sound that really makes what we do around here worth doing. Her vocals are powerful, quaking at times, but with the kind of sincerity that makes folk music such an admirable genre.
From the first finger-plucked notes of “River Song,” it’s evident that Caitlin takes her craft seriously. More story than formulaic song, the track tells the tale of a cautionless youngster who failed to see the effects of a rising tide. While it could be about a real river, it’s much more likely that the song’s about troubling situations in other parts of life.
“Cold December Night” is haunting track about a cold, dark night. “I can’t say a thing but I can hear you singin’ softly… praying for a new beginning… unwilling to let go.” It’s an interesting story that, for whatever reason, puts me in mind of pioneer times. The melody is essentially conventional western chord progression, but the penetrating and powerful lyrics help to punctuate hard life in a seemingly bygone era. It’s an intriguing song.
“Pallet on the Floor” has a similarly soft character to it, but there are a few minor chord turns in the track that show its blues and country influences. The humble heart of the lyric, “make me down a pallet on your floor” highlights the scandalous nature of the friendship, “know that I can’t lay across your bed… if I did my old man would surely shoot you dead.” What’s captivating is that she seems to like this guy better. It’s an unconventional and wholly captivating track.
The similarly narrative “Willow Tree” is about the difficult-to-measure love that she has for someone. The finger-picking on the track is really nice, relaxing, and fitting for the genre. Reminding listeners of something from roots country or early folk music, it seems straight from “the hills.” Of course the image of the willow tree is one evident of the American south, which also seems to fit the track. The harmonies (probably Bell tracking over herself) are also a nice touch on this song.
“Omie Wise” is the story of a murder. It’s truly tragic, complete with a drum beat reminiscent of western Native cultures. The story telling, including Bell’s vocal quality, sounds like classic roots country music. When put together the tragic elements of the song are truly palpable. “They go to the river where deep waters flow… John Lewis, tell me your mind. Do you intend to marry me or leave me behind?” It’s a threatening, forboding, truly tragic song. While it may not win a song popularity contest, it is one of the truest folk songs I’ve heard in years. That’s pretty high praise.
“Lowlands” has a fairytale quality, especially after the ominous previous track. It begins, “I dreamed a dream the other night…” then discusses the majesty of seeing her lover. It’s quaint, with a driving melody and beat that keep listeners interested. The backing cello serves to give a bottom to the sound that is welcome on the track. It’s almost otherworldly in the best ways possible. “Tried and Tried” fits a traditional folk music song in a similar way.
The final track “Three Little Babes” could almost be a Celtic song. It’s the lament of a woman talking about her children. She prepared them food and a place to sleep. It’s about care, nurturing, and ultimately the darkness of this world. It’s tragic and deep, much like the traditional mountain music continues to perpetuate. It’s a timeless, wonderful way to end an album.
All told, Caitlin Marie Bell is a folk singer of the highest order. Her music does not have the toe-tapping quality of the new folk revival, but rather preserves the soul-searching depth of traditional folk music. This album is for fans of deep, heartfelt music. Folks who enjoyed the early years of Loretta Lynn and similar Appalachian music will thoroughly enjoy what Bell offers here. What it lacks in upbeat style and intricate harmonies it more than makes up in transcendent, powerfully human stories. Do give her a chance to impress you with her sincerity.