My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Catherine Britt – ‘Catherine Britt’

Australian-born Catherine Britt is one of those artists whose careers never quite took off in the US, despite an abundance of talent. Her debut single ‘The Upside Of Being Down’ was only a very minor hit, and Too Far Gone, the excellent album she recorded in Nashville for RCA, was only released in Australia. A subsequent album Little Wildflower, also recorded in Nashville, was not quite as good.

Catherine has now returned to her homeland, and reunited with her former producer Bill Chambers, who has served as her mentor since she was a precociously talented eleven-year-old. He is assisted on this record by his son-in-law Shane Nicholson, and together they have made an album which is a little closer to Americana than straight country. Catherine is a fine songwriter and has written or co-written every track here.

Not everything here works for me. I didn’t really enjoy the opening track ‘I Want You Back’, written with producer Bill Chambers, which I thought was well-written lyrically but surprisingly rock sounding and lacking much of a melody. I liked even less the over-produced and processed ‘Under My Thumb’, written with fellow Australians Morgan Evans and Mark Wells. Happily these tracks proved to be in the minority.

Catherine’s solo composition ‘Holy River’ is a more effective stripped down traditional blues groove set to only Bill Chambers’ dobro, which I liked a lot. Also blues-based is the wailing ‘Lonely’, written with Chris Stapleton (late of the SteelDrivers), where she compares her emotions to those of a train.

Better still is the charming ‘Sleepy Town’, the most deeply rooted country of all the tracks here, which sounds as though it might be a traditional number, with its lilting melody and folk-style lyrics, with the protagonist talking wistfully of returning home to where her parents are buried. This and ‘Lonely’ are the only tracks to feature fiddle. The best song is a proper studio version of the lovely ‘Sweet Emmylou’, which Catherine wrote with Rory Lee Feek. She included a demo version as a bonus track on her last release, and the song has also been cut by Joey + Rory. Catherine’s wistful version here is beautiful and well worth hearing, although I marginally prefer the Joey + Rory version.

Another of my favorites is ‘Since You Slipped Away’, a ballad written with Jedd Hughes (another Australian, who is now working with Sarah Buxton). This dwells on the hurt caused by the end of a relationship, with delicately understated emotion:

Now I’m wrapped up in this mess you left
Since you slipped away
Now I’m building walls and closing doors and leaving you behind
Shutting out the hurt inside and taking back my mind
The blood you drew, it hurt you too, now we both have to pay

Much of the direction Catherine is taking reminds me a little of the equally talented Ashley Monroe, with whom she became friends when they were both hoping to capitalize on major label deals a few years back. Catherine has recorded three songs they wrote together, the best of which is the disillusioned ‘Call You Back Town’, as Catherine ruminates on her harsh experiences in Nashville:

Nobody’s around
To pick you up when you’re down
In this call you back town
In this watered down place
No heart and a smiling face
They don’t forgive your mistakes
In this watered down place
They push you up
Just to pull you down
They pour on lies
Just to watch you drown
In this call you back town
In this counterfeit city
They don’t look if you ain’t pretty
And it’s such a damn pity

The rather lonely love song ‘Anywhere You Are’ has fragile vocals and a vulnerable feel. I quite liked ‘Down’ and its poetic but rather oblique lyrics about being brought down by love, although it does not feel very country.

Catherine turned to a newer collaborator, Australian folk-pop singer-songwriter Melanie Horsnell to write the subdued ‘Saved Me’, a more optimistic sequel or companion piece to ‘Down’, with very similar imagery and feel, but with a more stripped down production. Horsnell provides backing vocals on the track, and also co-wrote the jauntily unrepentant pop-styled ‘Can’t Change A Thing’, and the pretty sounding ‘More Than you Are’.

The record closes with the delicate ‘Where Do You Go?’, written with Caitlin Evanson (Catherine’s former fiddle player, now working for Taylor Swift) and James Slater, which reflects quietly on the fragility of life and evanescence of happiness against a simple piano backing supplied by Nicholson.

This is a strong and interesting record, and one which grows on repeated listens. While I must admit a fleeting regret that Catherine has moved away from the style of Too Far Gone, one of my favorite albums of the past decade, she is certainly showing real artistic development.

As an Australian import this is not cheap to get hold of. It is available from Amazon and from a few enlightened stores.

7 responses to “Album Review: Catherine Britt – ‘Catherine Britt’

  1. plain_jo June 21, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    i was unaware that she has new music out. I’m excited to check it out!

  2. bob June 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Loved “The Upside of Being Down”. As you mentioned at the end, the new album is not cheap. I checked Amazon and it’s $30.49. Maybe it will be on i-tunes at a cheaper price in a year or so. I just found a cd by Aussie Melinda Schneider, Hits & Other Rarities from 2008 which is now on I-Tunes for $9.99. Saw Melinda at the Bluebird Cafe 3 years ago and she was great.

  3. Razor X June 21, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    I’m hesitant to shell out $30 for this when I didn’t like Little Wildflower much at all. I did like Too Far Gone a lot.

    • Leeann Ward June 21, 2010 at 6:51 pm

      I love Bill Chambers and I love his work with Shane Nicholson on Casey Chambers and Shane Nicholson’s album, Rattlin’ Bones. I also really liked Too Far Gone and like much of the Americana sound that you’ve described here. So, this is very tempting for me.

  4. The Horse June 21, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    An interesting review, I enjoyed the album. The collaboration with Melanie Horsnell on “Can’t Change a Thing” is my favourite. Yes it is poppy but fun and a great track for live performances. Its in my car player regularly.

  5. Rick June 21, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    I’ve had a friend in England email me the tracks off this album but I haven’t really been motivated to listen as the shell shock of “Little Wildflower” hasn’t worn off yet, and probably never will.

    On the other hand Catherine recorded about six additional solo acoustic songs, three of which I’ve been provided thus far. One (or more) of these tracks was an iTunes only bonus track and another was off the “digital single” release of “Can’t Change A Thing”. I have thoroughly enjoyed these songs and would like to hear the remainder of them! Catherine’s version of the oft-covered Tom Waits song “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You” is quite possibly the best vocal track Catherine has ever recorded! While I would not spend much on the “Catherine Britt” album, I would be gladly willing to pay for an EP (or SixPak if you are Blake Shelton) of just the solo acoustic songs alone.

    PS – I’m not surprised by your take on the song co-written by Morgan Evans as I haven’t cared for anything Morgan has recorded thus far. Mark Wells on the other hand has a streak of early Neil Young in his own songs that makes them interesting. A songwriting effort with just Catherine and Mark involved would be far more intriguing to me.

  6. Pingback: Some hidden treasures of 2010 « My Kind Of Country

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