2019Andrew Combs & Caitlin Rose
MarchDoors 8pm, Show 9pm - $12adv/ $14
Andrew Combs & Caitlin Rose
On his EP, 5 Covers & A Song (New West Records), Combs showcases songs that have had an impact on him at different points in his life. Songs by The Strokes and Radiohead are a nostalgic look back at teenage self discovery, while Loudon Wainwright III’s “4 x 10” represents a more current perspective, reflecting on his life now as a husband and father.
“4 x 10 sparked the initial idea to record a collection of covers,” says Combs. “Jordan Lehning (producer) and I had a bonding moment over this tune and how perfect we thought it was. In fact, we even thought of doing the whole EP of just Loudon songs. In my opinion he is one of the few writers who can cover the territory of familial relationships in such a shrewd and comfortable manner.
“I wanted at least a couple of these tunes on the EP to be nostalgic for me,” Combs continues. “I was a huge fan of The Strokes’ two first records when I was in high school. My friends and I used to dress like them — I had a white belt and white chucks I’d rock every day! I actually have Radiohead to thank for getting me into music. I remember the exact moment when my friend passed me a burned CD of Amnesiac in history class one day. I was probably 14. It was my first Radiohead record, and I worked back in their catalog from there, loving everything I heard. They still mean a lot to me as a band. Everything they do pushes into new territory — music, lyrics, artwork, etc… “
The idea for the EP evolved as a setting to recognize some of his favorite songwriters. “We all know that Blake Mills is a tremendous guitar player, but it’s his knack for songwriting and arranging that keeps me coming back to his records. Lucinda is the queen of songwriting in my book. No one else can portray a picture like her. She’s up there with Tom Waits, Townes and Guy Clark when it comes to words. I wanted a love song on the EP — something that came from a feeling of adoration. It’s a simple bed of music that her words dance on, but the build of the tune helps portray the yearning for someone. I couldn’t be happier with this version. I’d like to think Lucinda would enjoy it as well.”
The final track on the album, “Expectations,” is the sole original song on the EP. “This is a tune Sarah Siskind and I came up with on a rainy afternoon here in Nashville. We got to talking about relationships. I remember repeating a quote from a friend, saying, “you only get what you expect,” meaning that if you have expectations about someone close to you, positive or negative, they most likely will come true in your mind.”
Exploring your emotions can make for a good song, but it’s shining light on those which plague us all that builds the backbone of the truly great ones. Coupled with tireless melodies that seep into the small spaces between your bones; it’s the kind of music that brings on little movements when life has gotten too stiff. This is what Caitlin Rose does best. Her lyrics – visceral, illustrative, witty and wry – are pieces of stories that examine matters of the heart through a unique lens that makes us all see a bit more clearly: from the loneliness of relationships, to palpable dissolving human connectivity, to the loss of love with none of the melodrama. At her core, Nashville’s Rose is a storyteller and a song-crafter who is more interested in what’s being produced than how it helps her along the way.
Though much of her acclaimed debut Own Side Now was personally-inspired, what stood out most was its ability to paint a picture and tell a near-cinematic story, from the simultaneous last puffs of both cigarette and relationship, to the delightfully seedy characters pocketed in a coin-toss on the streets of New York City. With her follow-up, The Stand-In, Rose seems more interested in telling tales than spilling confessionals. “It feels more compelling to live through a song than it did having already lived it,” she says, The Stand-In is a journey down a road she’s always wanted to take: the path of the story-song. One track, “Pink Champagne,” inspired by a Joan Didion short essay, accounts for the desperate, short-lived passions of a Vegas wedding. The emotions stem from both protagonists, but are dissected and recounted by the watchful eye of the chapel or some honest observer from within. This collection of songs seems bent on investigating relationships from different perspectives; male and female, young and old, left and leaving, but they all tackle the bitter farewells, romantic misunderstandings and endless responsibilities in life. Using fibers of her fringe country roots and the bold musical capabilities of fellow producers/co-writers, Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson (Justin Townes Earle), The Stand-In seamlessly melds pedal steel guitar with restless pop beats, creating lush instrumentals that build on the more spare construction of Own Side Now. ”These songs are all based in sentiment. We wrote the stories to convey a feeling.” The result is infinitely more universal.
Rose doesn’t like to categorize her music, but like the great songwriters of our time, what she creates is beyond easy classification. While she often mentions core influences like Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan and Patsy Cline, she’s constantly absorbing books, movies, cultural ticks: when explaining her writing style, she pulls a quote from famed 1930′s daredevil, Karl Wallenda who said, “being on the wire is life; the rest is just waiting.” The quote is referenced in Bob Fosse’s 1979 semi-autobiographical film, All That Jazz. The film was written and directed by the famed choreographer turned director whose colorful personality and editorial brilliance became a lead inspiration in the making of The Stand-In. In the context of the scene in which it’s used, the quote comes off as a bit of a put-on, but somehow rings true for ‘slave to show-biz’ character Joe Gideon; and Rose as well for whom, all paths lead to the song. Much like Fosse, she tends to describe her work as restrained and deliberate, something evident on Own Side Now. Though for The Stand-In, she’s taken a few leaps outside her comfort zone, making the result, as she puts it, something like a “first attempt at a high kick.”
It’s fitting that Rose wrote her first song at sixteen as a substitution for a high school paper. Even as a means to an end, she recognized the power of music, and of melody, to relay emotions and stories in the most gripping way possible. A youthful observer, she enjoyed hanging out after school at the local Waffle House drinking cups of coffee and quietly shaping bits of gossip into first person tales of woe.
Growing up in Nashville to music industry parents (her mother, Liz Rose, is a songwriter who found success working with artists like Taylor Swift, Leann Womack and others), Rose inherited her mother’s “inclination towards melody –the ability to naturally know where melody could and should go” early on and again credits her love of songwriting to a long list of influences, many of which would be easily found in either of her parents record collections. From Hank Williams to The Rolling Stones, she says, “I’ve always been more inspired by what others have done.”
This is evident in her penchant for covers – two have made their way onto The Stand-In (“I Was Cruel,” by The Deep Vibration and “Dallas” by The Felice Brothers). She considers herself not just a writer, but an interpreter of song, eager to take works she admires and expose others to their brilliance and also reinvent them in a way that upon listening you might catch something you missed before.
“For me the intention behind any song is writing a good one,” Rose says “and to create something worthy enough to share with other people” Rose’s songs, however, are way beyond worthy. They’re downright necessary.
You may have seen or heard The Kernal in his other incarnation as a bass player with such artists as Andrew Combs and Jonny Fritz. But LIGHT COUNTRY introduces us to a funny, whip-smart songwriter and musical stylist on these original tracks. The album opens with the sweeping gospel number, “Where We’re Standing,” which builds to a swirling electric guitar outro. He describes “Knock Kneed Ballerina” as a “shoulder-dance country song and a sort of personal, band-mission statement;” it’s also a knowing nod to the classic sound of ‘70s Nashville Countrypolitan hits and a poignant ode to musical also-rans everywhere. “At the Old Taco Bell” was inspired by a photo of a boarded up, derelict Taco Bell. “It’s about me moving into an abandoned, and therefore affordable, Taco Bell at some point in the future,” he deadpans. Elsewhere he tackles modern domesticity (the Harry Nilsson-esque “Cold Shoulder”), and ends on an apology of sorts for his choice of lifestyle, “I earned my degree but I would rather rake some leaves … Barely eatin’ and meetin’ my rent.”
LIGHT COUNTRY is a family affair, but the family at this point is the family of memory; it was 2010 when the Kernal went into the attic of his childhood home in Pinewood, TN and found his
late father’s red Opry suit (it’s the suit he’s wearing on the album cover). An English major who’s as likely to reference Bela Bartok and Terry Allen as a country music legend, the Kernal was inspired to write his own songs after donning his late father’s red Opry suit. He discovered that it fit and began to feel its mojo. “It was a magic suit,” he confides. “It’s all about old fabrics on new skin, and seeing how they get along.”
“My dad,” the Kernal explains, “met Sleepy LaBeef at Linebaugh’s Restaurant in Nashville. Lonzo & Oscar were looking for a drummer and he asked my dad if he could play a shuffle beat on the table. He did and he left for a 10-day run the next day. It worked out because soon he was playing with Sleepy.” From there, his father found his way to The Kendalls, and eventually to the legendary Del Reeves, with whom he would play until Reeves’ death in 2007. His father died in September of the same year. These memories — this legacy of the old country music way, of rock and roll on the fly — was not lost on the Kernal, and he took it as starting point from which to build his own contribution to Southern music while celebrating its past.
LIGHT COUNTRY also features a snippet of the Kernal’s long-passed relatives singing gospel. He found old reel-to-reel tapes of his family’s gospel singing and was able to transfer the recordings and include snippets of their singing on the album. “They all came from the Rome, Georgia area and go back generations, back to the shape-note singing gospel books of the early Southern churches.”
This sense of place and history makes this an homage to family and the South, filtered through the Kernal’s literate, offbeat humor and sense of what makes a “good” country song. The Kernal inherited more than just a snappy red suit from his late Dad, he inherited his love of music and generations of musical history, as well as a dose of realism about “living the dream.”
This all gives LIGHT COUNTRY a color and depth you don’t often hear with a “young” artist. These songs have their own powerful energy, the chemistry of tension with the old guard and the young gun but with, according to the Kernal, “the respect and love that comes from the South itself.