Caitlin Rose: The Mercury Lounge, New York, NY 4/13

Most fans of country and folk music are familiar with the now-legendary Nashville/Austin scene of the mid 1970’s, where up and comers like Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, and Steve Young mixed seamlessly alongside mentors Guy and Suzanne Clark and the late Townes Van Zandt. As documented in several books and films, the crew formed a loose alliance. Fueled by long nights, roughened by hard booze, and challenged by ridiculous amounts of creativity, the assembled musicians formed a kind of unofficial movement in music circles, one that was as much about appreciating the good times and developing a kinship as it was about writing extraordinary songs and challenging the ideals within the old guards of the country music establishment. A similar movement is currently happening again down in Nashville, where a new and hearty collective have come together not only as musicians, but as ambassadors of the DIY, all-in-it-together ethos traditionally seen in the punk movement, but now surfacing forth in Americana. One of its’ brightest ambassadors, Caitlin Rose, rolled into New York City Monday night for a packed show at the Mercury Lounge.

The early start time and the abbreviated hour-long set gave the show the feel of a festival showcase, which was appropriate because Rose seems to be showcasing for the big-time these days. The positive and glowing press that has justifiably greeted the release of her latest album, The Stand-In, translated into a large and enthusiastic crowd, eager to shout their praises and display their love for Rose and her five-piece backing band. The room also buzzed with the presence of several industry professionals and management types, who jostled for position amongst the rest of the onlookers in the hot and sweaty room. Drawing heavily from the new album, Rose and Co. definitely brought it by deftly displaying a wide range of musical genres and styles, indicative of the tight bond and camaraderie they’ve undoubtedly formed back home in Nashville and along the many miles already logged playing to venues across the country. Songs like “No One to Call” and “Only a Clown”, charged forth with straight-ahead rock n’ roll swagger, while numbers like “Pink Champagne” and “Spare Me” showcased gorgeous pedal steel from Spencer Cullum, Jr. and a lilting, subdued country shuffle. 

Rose often strummed along with a guitar or tapped a tambourine as she straightforwardly delivered her lyrics while nonchalantly gazing off into the distance toward the neon bar lights at the back of the room. Guitarists Andrew Combs and Jeremy Fetzer traded licks and circled chords around Rose’s delivery, wrapping everything in a tidy, yet slightly unwound package. Combs also opened the show with a short set featuring several of his wryly observant country-flavored songs, and added punch to the arrangements by incorporating the entirety of Rose’s backing band into the mix. This setup again affirmed that communal spirit and vibe that seems to be essential to each member’s headway as a musician. Rose may be the name on the marquee, but one gets the feeling she’s just as comfortable being one of the guys or a key piece in a larger ensemble of equals.

That being said, she’s still the centerpiece, and fortunately knows how to carry the show by pulling the room in with witty and arcane, yet charming banter. Throughout the hour, she introduced songs and covered up for tuning mishaps with offbeat observations about tank-top sporting clowns, the comedy prowess of the bashful Cullum, and the awkwardness she often encounters in her everyday interactions (this particular riff serendipitously coincided with a man blocking peoples’ sightlines by awkwardly taking a picture of Rose with his iPad). She has an undeniably captivating personality that bodes well for future stardom. Whether or not that aligns with Rose’s personal ambitions or whether stardom is even attainable anymore for someone not affiliated with a reality TV music show, she’s nevertheless at the cusp of a promising and fruitful career and serves as a pleasant reminder that the Nashville scene is alive and well with a new generation of talent that is more than ready to carry on the banner raised by old greats.

No One to Call
Spare Me
Only a Clown
I Was Cruel
Silver Sings
Pink Champagne
Shanghai Cigarettes
Old Numbers
I’ve Got a Tiger By The Tail (Buck Owens Cover)

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