The Stand-In is frighteningly good. It’s an enterprise in the evocation of rich human emotions, interwoven with delicious hooks and intelligent riffs, stirring vocal performances delivering meaningful, elevated lyricism, and a towering production performance that may go down in the history books. Just simply… Wow.
Scoring high on all the basic music food groups–singing, songwriting, arrangement, instrumentation, production, and performances–there are songs on The Stand-In that Caitlin Rose will labor the rest of her career to top. This is a career album. This is an album the rest of the industry will use as a measuring stick in the coming years. By casting a wide sonic net that takes only the finest ingredients from country and rock’s classic era, and then emboldening them with modern, relevant sensibilities, The Stand-In grips you and won’t let go.
Don’t get your hopes up too high for a hard country album here folks. At times the steel guitar is penetrating and the depth of story is interminably palpable. But the magic of The Stand-In is that it is not really country. It’s Caitlin Rose. It’s an amalgam of one girl’s music quest interpreted through a cohesive vision by the production crew and players. At the same time, Caitlin knows when to be submissive to her collaborators, and the result is a unified artistic expression with a very fresh and robust sound. This is music for right here, right now, that shows that sensibilities do not always come at the compromise of substance, and that the seismic shift of sonic relevance in independent music from Austin to east Nashville is complete.
This album has so many monster songs. Let’s begin with “I Was Cruel,” one of the album’s most country offerings, and one of its standouts. The emotional moment at the end of this song is something some artists and songwriters work their entire lives to attain, yet Caitlin makes it look so effortless. “Only A Clown” is ridiculously good, and along with “Everywhere I Go” is ripe to be injected into a movie soundtrack or something. They have that devilish, universal appeal. These are the type of legacy songs that you thought music was no longer capable of.
“Dallas” is a Felice Brothers cover, and is another one of the more country-feeling tracks, featuring the always stirring out-of-place ‘F’ bomb. Caitlin has a howitzer of a voice, but heretofore could be accused of being too shy with it at times. But in “Dallas,” Caitlin’s voice shines, just as it does in a redemptive manner for some of the album’s lesser tracks like “Pink Champagne” and “Silver Sings.”
The production on The Stand-In is heavy-handed, yet remarkably unobtrusive to the songs. Producers Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson may be the real unsung heroes of The Stand In, deftly arranging Caitlin’s songs and separating them in style while not straying from under the unifying sonic umbrella defined by Caitlin’s broad influences. Skylar Wilson has worked with Justin Townes Earle in the past. Much like Townes Earle, Caitlin exhibits sonic leadership by evoking a sound that is equal parts rock and roots, yet fights to remain unconfined. But where Townes Earle relies on space and minimalist composition, Caitlin comes out with a full, bold approach.
Numerous times when listening to this album you want to question the direction of the production–the out front bass track on “Waitin’,” or the Tom Petty-esque feel at the beginning of “Silver Sings.” It’s not that The Stand-In is without warts. But this album has so many of those rising moments that music lives for, any potential misstep is chased by a redemptive moment. You can’t help but compare the album to some of the landmark production accomplishments of the past in how it brings Caitlin’s A-list songwriting to life.
Two other dudes who deserve props are Caitlin’s guitar player, the fresh faced Jeremy Fetzer, and pedal steel player Spencer Cullum who is also known to play with Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz. Both these guys bring a skill set of taste and instinct that is imperative to the Caitlin Rose sound.
The tile “The Stand In” alludes in part to Caitlin’s uneasiness as a front person. When I first saw her open for Justin Townes Earle in late 2010, her talent was blinding, but her confidence was confining. I knew then if the girl could just let loose, she could become a music powerhouse.
It’s really hard to look at this album and not see it as a springboard. This is Caitlin Rose’s moment. She’s no stand in, she’s an A1 girl.
Caitlin Rose is in full bloom on The Stand-In.
Two guns up!
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