wears the trousers magazine


sounding off: august 2009 (ii)

Part 2 of the August roundup looks at releases from Cabinet Of Natural Curiosities, Colbie Caillat and Catie Curtis.

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Cabinet Of Natural Curiosities
Searchlight Needles •••
For Arbors

Already a Free Music Friday veteran, it’s only right that Jasmine Dreame Wagner (aka Cabinet Of Natural Curiosities) receives a Wears The Trousers review for her first album, albeit already her fifth release. Searchlight Needles is a sort of Americana meets psych-folk poetry amalgamation that, as you can probably detect from this possibly futile descriptive attempt, does not sit easily within any one category. Instead, Wagner’s concoctions happily and gently float through a complex Venn diagram of musical genres, leaving trails of wisdom behind along the way. Opener ‘Little Ice Age’ sets the scene, quietly but freakily, accompanied by densely layered, organic instrumentation. “Little one, are you coming?” sings Wagner eerily, as if waking us up from a really bad dream…in a dark forest, in the middle of the night. Thanks.

While most tracks on the album are subtle explorations of a complex psyche, making excellent use of field recordings and Wagner’s soft, double-tracked vocals, it’s the emotionally simpler songs that invoke a real feeling of contentment. Album highlight ‘Cities’, for example, is a calm and poetic ode to nature: “Come and run in the grass with me / until the grasslands are gold with the lights of the ones they hold,” Wagner coos sedately, accompanied only by guitar and distant keyboards – just enough to keep the momentum going. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon on the sofa.

Anja McCloskey
UK release date 09/06/09; www.myspace.com/jasminedreamewagner

 

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Colbie Caillat
Breakthrough •••
Island

So this is ‘surf-pop’? Or is it ‘blue-eyed soul’? Colbie Caillat’s music gets attributed to a multitude of genres, some more spurious or special-pleading than others, which is baffling given how simply one can slot it into the straightforward category of ‘good pop music’. The golden girl’s second album is imbued with the feel of her native Malibu, crammed with candyfloss melodies appropriately redolent of warm breezes and rolling surf. Like its predecessor, Breakthrough is an impeccably wholesome and forward-looking album, sunny in outlook as well as in lyrical content. Its thematic centrepiece is ‘Rainbow’, a jaunty journey whose protagonist rambles towards her destiny, singing as she goes: “I’ve got no reason to worry / I know I’ll find the end”. It’s a song that beautifully captures the chilled-out carefree nonchalance that rarely lasts past adolescence.

But for all the musical and lyrical joie de vivre on show here, there’s an interesting, occasionally world-weary ache to Caillat’s voice. Her husky lilt contrasts intriguingly with the merrily skipping vocal line on new-love anthems like ‘You Got Me’, with its backdrop of ’50s fingersnaps, or ‘Fallin’ For You’ and ‘Running Around’, both of which swing with the dizzy grace of ‘Cherish’-era Madonna. It’s a tone that’s more convincing on the songs which address love’s loss rather than its discovery; Caillat’s vocals attain a melancholy maturity on the slow-burning ‘Fearless’, the pulsing pep-talk of ‘It Stops Today’, and ‘Droplets’, her duet with co-crooner Jason Reeves. Although, like much good pop, it’s eminently disposable, while Breakthrough lasts it is heartfelt and likeable stuff. Getting out in the sun always does you good.

Rhian Jones
UK release date: 14/09/09; www.myspace.com/colbiecaillat


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Catie Curtis
Hello, Stranger ••••½
Compass

Over the last 15 years, Boston-based singer-songwriter Catie Curtis has produced a string of solid studio albums largely restricted to coffehouse folk and Lilith Fair-style songwriting. For Hello, Stranger, her eleventh studio album, Curtis detours slightly from her well-worn path, turning in a surprisingly compelling string band album. Featuring a host of well-known names including Stuart Duncan (fiddle, mandolin), Alison Brown (banjo), Todd Phillips (bass), George Marinelli (guitar, mandolin, dobro) and Kenny Malone (percussion), she runs through six covers and, in an impressive display of versatility, sterling reworkings of five of her own compositions.

Curtis definitely suits the Nashville-inspired, live-in-the-studio approach she’s taken with these songs, particularly on the title track. A cover of The Carter Family classic, previously tackled by Emmylou Harris, Mary Gauthier takes up the role of vocal foil here for a lovely duet that doesn’t skimp on conviction, doing the original well-deserved justice. The absolute gem in the stone, though, is Curtis’s own ‘Dad’s Yard’, a moving expression of love for a father. In Hello, Stranger, she’s produced a rare gem and one hell of an album that any Catie Curtis, folk music or country music fan should include in their collection.

Claire Robinson
UK release date: 03/08/09; www.myspace.com/catiecurtis


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