Dallas born and Nashville raised, Caitlin Rose impressed many with her 2010 début ‘Own Side Now’ and its antecedent EP ‘Dead Flowers’. A record steeped in the honeyed tones of Patsy Cline, Linda Ronstadt, Loretta Lynn – tired comparisons by now – and a host of past greats, ‘Own Side Now’ saw Rose emerge as a songwriter of note. With it she displayed a knack for honest, wry observation that belied the singer’s age, an album that built on past traditions while pulling together contemporary Nashville threads and the playful verve of Rose’s previous incarnation, Save Macauley.
‘The Stand-In’ heralds a more mature sound; musically more adventurous – drifting into Springsteen/ Eagles/ Fleetwood Mac Seventies AOR territory at times – and lyrically suggesting a more world-weary Rose than that of ‘Own Side Now’, doling out the heartache as well as receiving. The production polish is more pronounced on an album that is very much Rose and the band as opposed to her more singular past efforts. Skylar Wilson returns to the producer’s chair, while The Deep Vibration’s Jeremy Fetzer provides an electric edge to Rose’s voice.
A lone electric guitar slash signals the change in tone from her début on an upfront No One To Call, a rumination on loneliness laced with deliverance. Only A Clown is another of those downbeat/uplifting dichotomies where redemption lies in music, with co-writer Gary Louris adding a touch of Jayhawks magic as the chorus lifts off – “Put your record on/ Let the band play a song/ All about love and believing”
The band excel on the slightly darkened hue of Waitin’, a song that gains in power as it progresses, with Rose’s clock on the wall analogy signalling the pendulum swinging over yet another inevitable, doomed romance – “One hand always wants to hang on/ The other one says that it’s time to move on” Similarly, when the singer admits “I’ve been lying around with the dogs in this town too long” on When I’m Gone, it’s with the same unapologetic resignation.
Golden Boy turns the table, romance with an unorthodox couplet for an unorthodox couple – “Doomsday came and you were still around/ We watched that China bar burn down” – retro pop with a summery shimmer. It’s on the album’s two cover versions that Rose impresses the most – she guests with The Deep Vibration on their ‘Strange Love’ album, here making their I Was Cruel her own while the band imbues it with a greater urgency than the original. Likewise, having pounded her share of stages since ‘Dead Flowers’, The Felice Brothers’ Dallas slots easily alongside the rest of the album’s weary vignettes.
Menagerie is all upbeat indignance built around a faux-Motown beat and simple guitar phrase -”I’m gonna dance over broken glass/ And destroy all these beautiful things” – another song about breaking out from a stale association, and an irresistible romp with it. Old Numbers pulls another transformation, a ragtime swing with slouchy horn and sparse guitar licks, signalling the album’s end with some mischievous stylistic dexterity.
If at first glance things appear same-y with that big, glossy sound, it’s because the subtleties of the songwriting reveal themselves only gradually, and the listener comes around to this new dynamic of Rose as one part of a cohesive ‘band’ as opposed to a solo songstress. Things don’t always gel (Everywhere I Go just seems dull in comparison to its bedfellows) but the minor flaws pale beside the triumphs – ‘The Stand-In’ is a bold and assured step forward, lyrically and sonically.