In the intervening years between her debut Own Side Now and this sophomore record, there has been very little sign of Caitlin Rose apart from a great cover of Alex Turner’s “Piledriver Waltz.” So as she returns, it is immediately apparent that this interval has been used for growing up: gone is the indie aesthetic in favour of cover art that echoes the glamour of a bygone era, lyrics that are far more concerned with heartbreak and defeat than growing up, and the rock and folk influences have been largely discarded for more Americana. As a move when most of the current faces of country are transitioning into pop music, it's pretty bold. Fortunately, for the most part, it’s a gamble that has paid off.
Almost everything that made her debut so successful has returned here. The record’s production is smart; the instrumentation is kept minimal and in the background whilst Rose’s voice is mostly left to stand by itself, remaining unadorned, direct and tender. However, it is plainly evident that Rose still hasn’t come to terms with just how good her voice is and at times it feels like she is holding back on the vocals more than is necessary. In a future album, it would be interesting for Rose to showcase just how great her range is. And whilst the voice still has the warmth it had on her debut record, at times it lacks that dry humour that makes it so instantly charming; at times the record moves uneasily into despair without sign of levity. “Everywhere I Go” and “Golden Boy” both seem to lack the ability to move beyond self-pitying.
With the exception of the expendable “Old Numbers,” Rose has constructed an album with minimal filler. It is clear that Rose has used the time between albums to improve and mature as a lyricist and the cover versions of The Deep Vibrations’, “I Was Cruel” and The Felice Brothers’ “Dallas” both fit in easily amongst the original material. It would be fair to say that The Stand In is an album of two clear highlights surrounded by songs that are still pretty damn good. “Waitin’” allows for Rose to bare her teeth in the dual narrative of a couple realising that both of them have entered into a relationship with the expectation that it will eventually collapse, playing like a duel instead of a break-up. The best track is the Joan Didion inspired “Pink Champagne,” a quiet and tender depiction of a reluctant Vegas wedding stripped of all glamour with the weary husband’s wry observation on the ceremony: “Never will forget the day you turned and said to me/ Darling, it was just as lovely as I dreamed it could be.”
The Stand In is Caitlin Rose’s best material to date but it is clear that there is still improvement to be had. The transition into more typical country themes has occasionally been done at the expense of what makes her such a magnetic performer. Surely the woman who is capable of make an eye-roll audible with “Like A Clown’s” cliché subverting chorus:
Put the record on
let the band play the song
all about love and believing
good for you
cause if that’s true then it’s only a clown misleading
is able to keep her wit on even the drabbest of topics. At 25, Rose has more than enough times to work out the kinks. Until then, you can enjoy one of the best albums of 2013 so far.
8.6 / 10
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