Review: Caitlin Rose – enthralling music and a nifty comedic sideline at The Fleece (23/4/23)

(Photo by Laura E Partain)

In the nine year hiatus between her second album The Stand-In and November 2022 release Cazimi, Nashville’s Caitlin Rose endured a period of personal and creative tumult that saw her fall out of love with performing and even consider quitting music altogether. Observing her talents for compositions that emit both melody and unrelenting humanity, a voice that has garnered comparison to Loretta Lynn and Iris Dement, and on stage badinage full of fun, unselfconscious bluster, that would’ve been a deep shame.

Rose’s default to playfulness is on display right away when she thinks aloud “how long should I make them vamp on this?” as bandmates on pedal steel, bass, drums and guitar, repeatedly venture the bouncy three chord intro to ‘Carried Away.’ Having personally witnessed guitarist Jerry Bernhardt play a superstar supporting role in Courtney Marie Andrews’ band last month, it’s a pleasure to see him and his Epiphone Casino once again. The instrumental breaks during ‘How Far Away’ is only the first instance where Berndardt beautifully spins a simple, subtle web of motifs which meld perfectly with the achingly melancholic pedal steel of his bandmate. 

Rose notices an enthusiastic figure in the front row – one so animated it looks like the gentleman is gunning to usurp local icon Jeffrey ‘Big Jeff’ Johns – and says “You’re killing me, I love it.” An Atlanta Braves cap is this then thrown stageward at Rose. “You don’t have lice do you?” she asks before mini-Jeff’s female companion responds with an excellently timed “Not on his head.” It gets the biggest laugh of the evening and Rose playfully laments “half this set is stand up and this bitch just trumped me.”

Rose sheds her jacket early on, revealing black jeans and red and black flannel shirt; with this attire, combined with her energetic demeanour and the countrified drawl of her vocals, Rose cuts a pleasing archetype of the fun-loving southern hostess (though a little less polished or showbiz in her repartee, her ease with an audience recalls natural performers like Dolly Parton). The slowed down romance of ‘Blameless’ is sparse enough for Rose’s pretty twang to float most evidently above the music and, during the instrumental break, Bernhardt’s chopping guitar melds wonderfully once again with some brilliantly plaintive pedal steel.

Before ‘Getting It Right’ – a tunefully immediate co-write with Andrews – Rose recalls the apparently obscure Dylan lyric “Hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun” and, jokes that it’s “A Guess Who? of good taste” following her suspicion that the two audience members who were familiar must be possessed of grey beards. Rose proceeds to half-ironically click her fingers and execute a few shimmies during the song’s instrumental.

Continuing the theme that tonight is a near cabaret of music and comedic interlude, Rose exhibits her “inside voice.” Closing her mouth and puffing out her checks and not moving a facial muscle, she executes an amusing high-pitched interlocuter from within. It’s genuinely good, like a ventriloquist act combined with Rob Brydon’s ‘small man trapped in a box’. Later, Rose mentions The Magnolia Electric Co and teases the apparently uneducated audience for their somewhat confused, half-arsed applause in response. She then dons the Braves cap and leads the band through a cover version of ‘Nashville Moon.’

‘No One To Call’ – a rare survivor from The Stand-In – is more of a full-blown country-rocker and is a higher gear within which the beguiling interplay between Bernhardt and the pedal steel player (really wish I caught his name!) continues to excel. Rose mentions a London reviewer who described her lively eccentricity as akin to “a bucket full of frogs” right before delivering the gorgeous moving-on-from-lost-love poignancy of ‘Own Side.’ Rose confronts the “farce” of the inevitable encore before exiting for a shot of tequila and simplifying matters by making it clear that the band will just return after an audience countdown from ten. A faster than usual, breakneck dash of old favourite ‘Shanghai Cigarettes’ is a crowd pleasing finale.

It feels as if the world would’ve genuinely missed out on something had Rose retired prematurely from the music game. It’s been about as fun and enthralling as a tight sixty minutes of live music can be.

Scott Hammond