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.