Album Review – Kaitlin Butts – “What Else Can She Do”
She may be dishing out hash browns at the local diner, or serving you a caffeinated beverage in a paper cup. But no matter who she is, or where she’s from, that is likely not how she had things planned out in her life. It’s not just men who lead lives of quiet desperation, as Henry David Thoreau once said. And the stagnation of dreams and the stalling of forward momentum in life that so many women face is what composes the inspiration for this cutting and deeply affecting work from Oklahoma singer and songwriter Kaitlin Butts.
Fans of Kaitlin Butts have been waiting like patience on a monument for a new album, with a full seven years since the release of her debut record Same Hell, Different Devil ticking by. That was unlikely Kaitlin’s plan either. One of the scandalously few women somewhat successfully making it in the Texas/Red Dirt scene, you’ll see her name on festival posters, and perhaps on the stage with her husband Cleto Cordero of Flatland Cavalry, or hear her voice on some recordings from others. But maybe the release of What Else Can She Do? will finally be her moment. Taking a critical assessment of the record, it’s hard to argue why it shouldn’t be.
It’s not that fans of Kaitlin Butts have been completely starved for new music from her. With just a handful of singles, Kaitlin has made a greater impact in music than some artists who are three or four records deep. 2019’s “White River” was a murder ballad for the ages. Kaitlin showed off her gentler side with her love letter to Cleto Cordero “How Lucky Am I.” And this stuff was country, without being stuffy or dated. Add another standalone single on “Marfa Lights,” and Kaitlin has done a fair bit better than just treading water over the last few years, she’s distinguished herself as one of the top women in independent country.
She could have included all of those previously-released tracks on What Else Can She Do?, and fleshed out the album beyond the seven songs that will leave some listeners wanting and whining about how short this is. But Kaitlin had a grander vision for this project, presenting women in unenviable scenarios, facing forks in the road and tests of will in these original songs, along with a rendition of the traditional folk song “In The Pines” that tops Kurt Cobain’s version, olive cardigan and all.
There’s just a confidence behind the voice of Kaitlin Butts that puts her in her own elite league, paired up with an emotional expressiveness that takes it far beyond some sort of athletic display. So many singers shy away from the sweetest, and most challenging notes of their register, worried they will falter. But Kaitlin Butts is fearless, charging forward, full volume in the mix so her words penetrate far past the rib cage and leave the internal organs and mortal soul stirred well past the expiration of the music itself.
Some of the moments can be unsettling from the harrowing stories she tells, whether it’s a bored woman pondering the value of her faithfulness, or someone who has fallen on such hard times, “she’s using” anything they can get their hands on. The waltz beat of the fiercely-personal “blood,” as well as the well-written “jackson” playing off the story of Johnny and June veritably squeeze the emotion out of moments to the point where once you get to the end of “in the pines,” you’re chilled to your core. This is not a happy record. At all. And unapologetically so. Kaitlin Butts is trying to awaken emotions in the audience to ponder big questions.
But undergirding the stories of these sometimes hapless, and sometimes hopeless women is a deep sense of promise. Humans sometimes have difficulty seeing past their own nose, or the current predicament they’re embroiled in. But the only constant is change, and we all must take some twists and turns to get where we need to be, especially during young adult life. At times, we all have to wait tables or pour lattes, or do jobs we don’t want to do to get where we want to go. It’s a rite of passage, though some, unfortunately, never make it to the next phase. Country music is supposed to be for them—the working class.
Fundamentally country, but imaginative in scope through some of the sonic landscapes brought to bear by producer Oran Thornton to bring the moodiness of the album to life, it’s fair to question if What Else Can She Do? ends too soon. But this album for isn’t an ending for Kaitlin Butts. It’s just a beginning. And hopefully, just like the characters of this album, Kaitlin Butts is commencing a period in her career where a new leaf is turned, and she finally receives the attention and recognition attentive country fans have known she’s deserved for years.
Purchase from Kaitlin Butts
April 15, 2022 @ 8:50 am
I haven’t gotten to sit and listen to the whole thing through so far but every song I’ve heard from this so far (at least half the album at this point) has been great. This one is almost guaranteed to hit my year end list.
April 15, 2022 @ 9:50 am
I just saw it’s only 7 songs. I’ve probably heard them all then haha
April 15, 2022 @ 8:53 am
I think it’s only fitting that I be one of the first to chime in. Even though I’ve only spun this a couple of times I and many others have been living with these songs acoustically for 2 or 3 years now. To see how they came together this lightly cohesive concept is really amazing. She had an idea that really is light years beyond any of the other ladies in the current Country scene. Could she of squeezed one more on here? Sure if she had another song that fit with these stories. White River, How Lucky am I, and my personal fun fav Buckaroo will have to wait to live another day in the album world……….But today a masterpiece has been released. Possible album of the year in my opinion. Let’s celebrate!!!
April 15, 2022 @ 9:32 am
Oops, Trigger, you accidentally typed an “8” instead of a “10”
But seriously, I love this album so much. So happy to hear “Jackson” recorded since it’s one of my favorite of hers live. Her voice at the end of that song is just *chef’s kiss* & her rendition of “In the Pines” is chilling. Country music is lucky to have Katilin Butts.
April 15, 2022 @ 10:28 am
It’s really hard to know how to grade an album like this, and I always caution folks from taking the ratings too seriously. The ultimate conclusion on any album is in the review itself. My criticisms of this album are close to zero. That said, we have six original songs here, and so I feel like it’s only fair to the projects that have 10-12+ original songs—including where most or all of those songs are great—to also balance that into any grade.
That said, I’m seeing a lot of people saying this album is going to be a contender for their Album of the Year, and I think that’s a fair assessment. I think of it along the lines of Jaime Wyatt’s “Felony Blues” from 2017, which was also only had 7 songs, including a cover song. That album ultimately went on to be nominated for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year. It’s only April so I don’t want to make any promises, but I don’t see why this couldn’t be a contender for Album of the Year. But I also want to be judicious considering the length of the project, while also considering quality over quantity.
April 27, 2022 @ 8:25 pm
Stacy Felker recommended this album on her Insta account. I listened to a few of the songs and have been streaming it constantly since. There is no way that any small town Texas girl is not going to relate to these songs on many different levels. She the best female artist in country right now.
August 16, 2022 @ 3:04 am
Well said. It is definitely quality over quantity but I have a tough time comparing “XEP” length LPs (my term) with traditional length albums. Someone made this decision it was time to release the project. That said these original songs are fantastic.
April 15, 2022 @ 9:33 am
This is a strong contender for album of the year. Saying this is anxiously awaited is an understatement, but she delivered. So damn good. “Jackson” is my current favorite, but as you would expect with just 7 songs, there is no filler here. Yeah, would be nice if it was a bit longer, but then again I would prefer this to some of the bloated double albums we’ve seen, most of which would have been better served being distilled down to something like, well, 7 songs. What a damn good record.
April 15, 2022 @ 9:49 am
Yes. Been following her for a few years now. She came on stage with Flatland to sing “In a Life Where we Work Out” Hadn’t heard of her before. She had me at hello.
If you haven’t heard it, check out her cover of the Miley Cyrus song “Angels Like You”. Damn if she didn’t nail it.
April 15, 2022 @ 9:53 am
It’s going to be my album of the year. I absolutely love what she does sonically with her music. It’s a 10/10 just phenomenal
(Still) The Ghost Of OlaR
April 15, 2022 @ 10:27 am
five out of seven tracks is not too bad.
can’t “feel” two tracks: “into the pines” & “it won’t always be this way”.
kaitlin butts sounds good on “it won’t…” but the production is pushing the track & on “…pines” the production is pushing the track over the cliff.
– More NEW Music:
Allison Forbes – Dead Men Tell No Stories – Album (11 Tracks) – Released (04/15)
The “singer, songwriter, average guitarist, awesome drinker & music lover” is an australian (alt-) country music artist.
Last years “Save You Now” became one of my Songs of the Year 2021. The albums contains a couple of former singles like the chart hit “Pieces of Silver”. Produced by Matt Fell Allison Forbes sounds better than ever & is becoming a fine storyteller.
Jessica Willis Fisher – Brand New Day – Album (10 Tracks) – Released (04/13)
…”what’s done it’s done…what’s lost is lost”…& the fiddle kicks in….not a sugar-coated one…it’s an aggressive fiddle…a dark one, like the lyrics & the story behind “Fire Song” (written by Jessica Willis Fisher & Jon Randall).
The new single (“Gone”) is an uptempo folk-ish track. The only track not written or co-written by JWF is the atmospheric “You Move Me” (Gordon Scott Kennedy).
Overall a great album with a lot of potential…but…for me…it’s the “Fire Song” (so far my overall SotY 22).
(Still) The Ghost Of OlaR
April 15, 2022 @ 10:37 am
Allison Forbes: it’s album…not albums.
Jessica Willis Fisher: it’s “what’s done is done”…not “what’s done it’s done”.
April 25, 2022 @ 12:13 pm
I checked out Allison Forbes – the album title obviously drew me there. The album is fantastic, but, I tried to get some background info on the disc, to no avail. Her newest release isn’t even mentioned on her website and on her facebook page, there is not much either to be found.
April 15, 2022 @ 1:36 pm
KB is terrific and the quality of this album is no surprise.
Also wanted to point out that David Quinn’s new record, “Country Fresh,” released today. It’s absolutely fantastic (like his last one).
April 16, 2022 @ 10:23 am
Matt I saw this comment yesterday and went and listened to David’s new record based off of this and was blown away. What a fun and very country record. I went and listened to the other 2 records and immediately bought all 3 off his website. David is super underrated.
April 16, 2022 @ 11:17 am
So glad to hear it and completely agree! I learned about Quinn’s music right here–Trig gave a very favorable review to the last record, Letting Go (2020).
April 16, 2022 @ 12:52 pm
Have reviewed his last two records, playlisted him, and done everything I can to spread the word. Took a “ladies first” approach to reviewing the big albums released on Friday, but I’ll have one up for David Quinn soon.
April 16, 2022 @ 1:20 pm
Sorry trigger didn’t mean to take away from this review for Kaitlin or seem like you overlooked David. i know you take your time reviewing albums and can’t get to them all right away. I listened to her album all morning and early afternoon yesterday and also thought it was great from start to finish. I think “White River” could have been added and fit with the overall theme and i could see ‘How lucky am I” but only as the opener as kind of light moment before you get hit with all these killer tunes. I still get most of my albums/favorite artists thanks to this site.
April 16, 2022 @ 1:51 pm
Oh, no worries Tyler, was just jumping into let folks know David Quinn isn’t being overlooked here. However folks hear about him, it’s all good, including in the comments section for another review.
April 15, 2022 @ 2:07 pm
Hell of an effort, even if it’s only 7 songs.
There’s a lot of small town to big city truth packed in “Bored if I Don’t” and “What Else Can She Do”, and it definitely hit home on my ears. “It Won’t Always Be This Way” is a showstopper too, especially when she shows off the range towards the end.
Tracks were all great and well written. I like that she lets her vocals carry the songs. The instrumentation is good, but the vocals and writing are the calling card, and she puts herself in position to showcase that.
I did legitimately get chills on her rendition of “In the Pines”. I haven’t heard a single person cover that song since the Nirvana unplugged set, and for good reason. She did it justice, though I’m not willing to say it was better than Cobain’s. I still listen to Nirvana and Pearl Jam’s Unplugged sets religiously though, so I’m not impartial.
April 15, 2022 @ 3:00 pm
Can she deliver us a river of sundew?
Waitresses For Truth In Country Music
April 15, 2022 @ 4:27 pm
Pretty girl puts out EP, nation yawns. More news at 11…
April 16, 2022 @ 1:47 pm
Anon leaves shitty comment. No one cares.
April 15, 2022 @ 5:08 pm
She is great. Period.
April 16, 2022 @ 11:48 am
I love it too!
I rarely will just listen to full albums from female country artists.
Then Kaitlyn comes along. I’ve made playlists on Spotify from her music. It’s damn good stuff.
Solid review on this one.
April 16, 2022 @ 9:32 pm
I follow the SCM top 25 playlist regularly, but some of you have other playlists. Looking for more regularly updated playlists of authentic country. I’ll take a listen to this whole album soon.
April 18, 2022 @ 6:10 am
About the review: congratulations, but only 8.5? Maybe “the tears don’t let me see the music”…
About the record: 31’48”… when I was a kid that was called a mini-lp… that’s all…
About Kaitlin Butts: her voice speaks for herself. Thanks Butts.
(sorry for the joke)
May 4, 2022 @ 9:25 am
I’ve listened to this album nearly every day (sometimes twice) since this album came out. It is a brief, triumphant statement piece and deserves a great deal of attention.