Own Side Now
One can imagine the massive wardrobe necessary for Caitlin Rose when she plays her new album, Own Side Now, live. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter’s full-length debut has been out since August in the United Kingdom, where she’s a critic’s darling, but is only now making it Stateside. Remember the name, and all her musical costumes: Rose is a talent who’s sure to be around for a while. There’s a bolo tie for those songs with the country twang, like “Spare Me (Fetzer’s Blues)” with its playful harmonica solo. And then there’s those heavy boots with spurs for the opening track, “Learnin’ To Ride,” where her mention of a Tennessee stud is about more than a horse, and the shuffling percussion gives off the perfect aw-shucks vibe to match lines like “When I was young used to/Ride the wild ones/They were lots of fun but they/Almost took my life.”
Own Side Now is an album where Rose tries on different styles like most people do pairs of pants, switching it up whenever it seems she’s found too comfortable a fit. Right when you think you’ve figured out it out – It’s indie country. No, it’s alt-indie-country! – she introduces something completely new, be it covering Fleetwood Mac’s “That’s Alright” or the bitingly sarcastic track “New York,” where Johnny Brooklyn isn’t going home with Rose, who this time is a self-proclaimed “acid washed up movie queen.” Segueing away from her country roots, she tells off her home state with a wink and a nod, singing, “So Tennessee when I get home/You just better leave me alone/Don’t try to claim me as your own/I’m not the girl I used to be.”
And what girl is that? Better hang on tight because the personas change fast. There’s Rose donning the figurative bluesman regalia of black hat and dark shades for the closing track, “Coming Up,” a full-blown backwoods jam where she sounds as confident as can be – “I’m gonna ride, I’m gonna ride/I’m gonna take on the sky on/This crazy cloud of mine.” And over there is Rose sounding like she’s a perpetual bridesmaid on the title track, “Own Side.” Vocals on the verge of tears, she wonders, “Who’s gonna want me when/I’m just somewhere you’ve been?”
Answer: listeners everywhere. At no point does Rose sound more at home than on the musically mixed and matched “Shanghai Cigarettes.” Starting with a bassline rumble and stomping-on-the-floor percussion straight from Berry Gordy’s personal vault, the track showcases Rose’s earnest lyrics. This object-as-a-relationship song avoids feeling contrived thanks to lines like “Here we go again/With the long goodbyes/Cause you let the smoke/Get in your eyes” and “Tryin’ to quit will make you wish you/Didn’t start/When the box is empty/As the hole in your heart.” Rose’s vocals are so sweet and the beat is so contagious, you might be tempted to break up with your beau just to have an excuse to listen to it on repeat.
Yet the most striking song on the album is perhaps the hardest one to quantify. “Things Change” is equal parts ballad and confessional, its airy musical style more akin to the one slow number on an ‘80s European synth pop album than the country imagery its lyrics demand. The opening lines of “I ain’t got a whole lot of money/I ain’t got a whole lot of time” are about as Nashville as you can get, but those phased-out guitar lines, drifting around as if they were smoke, come from somewhere in Europe. Light cymbal splashes lead into a chorus simple and true in message and execution – “And I feel like crying/But I don’t know why/Cause I know love never dies/And some things have got to change.”
The crooning background vocals rise and trade phrases with a simple guitar solo that follows the melody of the main vocal line. It’s a flush and full sound in perfect pairing with a sentiment that defines the entire album. Things have got to change. Caitlin Rose understands this; it’s what makes Own Side Now so exciting. Now the only question left is what to wear when listening to it. Whatever the purchase, make sure to keep the receipt. You’ll surely wish to be refitted by the start of the next song.