Saturday, December 24, 2011

Caitlin Robertson’s Coyote Blues

In November I interviewed Minnesota singer/songwriter Caitlin Robertson who is currently trying to raise money for a second CD of her folk-rock-country-pop songs, Wintersong. In December her threesome, Caitlin Robertson and the Dusty Roads, opened for another Twin Cities group at The Rex (the old Fitgers Tap Room) and I was able to purchase a copy of her first CD titled Coyote Blues, which I have been listening and re-listening to. And I like it.

There are a whole slew approaches to making music. For some groups the song is simply an excuse for break-out jams in between verses. For other groups, it’s all about the message, the story, the words. Robertson weaves both music and words into a lyric whole.

My first impression of the album is its clean sound and high production values. The songs involve a range of musicians in various combinations from acoustic guitars, keyboards and percussions to fiddle, mandolin, upright bass, electric bass, steel and slide guitars and vocal harmonies.

My next observation is that Robertson’s songs demonstrate a serious effort to craft original images and touch universal themes in new ways. I was very pleased to find that the CD includes an eight-page booklet with acknowledgements to the other artists involved with her project as well as all the lyrics to her poetic songs.

The opening track, Red Barn So Lonely, begins this way:

Red barn so lonely
Rooftop white with snow
Doors hang open
Swallow breath-stealing cold…

I hear William Blake in this simple description which easily becomes a metaphor for so much more. The song continues with lines like “frozen quilts of stars” and “ice covered wings” as the narrator struggles to regain hope, to re-connect with lost dreams.

Robertson’s lilting, lyric voice has a childlike innocence as it soars through airy high spaces. She's easy to listen to. But she’s not the innocent you expect as you learn she’s past her thirtieth year and has had enough life experience to know it has painful as well as rewarding contours.

I’d be interested in learning who she’s singing to when she sings Meet Me In Port Townsend, the second track. The Photographer is another song that tells a story in song, followed by Feeding the Vultures, Sally Ireland and the Ice Cream Song (Meltin’ Fast).

Coyote Blues, from which the album takes its name, is a story about two cowgirls who meet a coyote while walking into town one afternoon. It’s an intriguing song with an interesting twist, including a coyote howl that will take you places.

Two of my favorite songs on the album are Bar Napkin and Losing You. Bar Napkin begins…

Bar Napkin, bar napkin
Won’t you dry my tears
Won’t you record my poems
Take away the years

It’s been a long time
Since I felt young
Oh what a mess
This life has brung….

The song brought back a memory from my own youth when I felt old and had seen so much, felt I had been through so much. In the song the narrator recounts a decade of her life from young barmaid to present, weary and looking for a fresh bar napkin to start on again.

I find it interesting when songwriters mention their actual ages. Paul Simon once wrote, "I was 21 years when I wrote this song; I'm 22 now and I won't be for long... and the leaves that are green turn to brown."

The song also brought back memories of my year in Mexico where tortillas, like bar napkins, serve a variety of purposes, from hot pad, to soup spoon, to even being a napkin. I never saw anyone write on poem on a tortilla, but it’s a sure thing this south o’ the border food staple has been the subject of more than a few poems.

Losing You corrals a painfulness that could put moisture in the corners of your eyes, a song of loss and heartbreak. It’s not the belt ‘em out blues of Janis Joplin. It’s more Melanie and Linda Ronstadt, a high clarion call perhaps not unlike the Sirens that tormented Ulysses. (O.K., I’m probably over-reaching there.)

Read the interview here to learn more about Caitlin Robertson and her current project. Be sure to enjoy the video. You won’t receive her CD by Christmas any more, but if you get a little Christmas money from grandma, it might be something to add to your collection.

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