Catherine Irwin: Little Heater

Catherine Irwin
Little Heater
(Thrill Jockey)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Freakwater frontwoman Irwin has gone a decade between solo releases (this is only her second), not a template for anyone expecting to further a music career. But that never seemed to bother her. So, true to her impulses, this stripped down set is raw and powerful and non-commercial, even in an indie definition of that word. Producer Tara Jane O’Neill and the band Ida provide sparse yet intensely stark backing to 13 originals that could have been written anytime over the past 100 years. This is pure, unadulterated rootsy country/folk that never takes the easy way to deliver its downbeat vision of desperate, difficult lives with often disconcerting simplicity and a reliance on the wounded sound of Irwin’s everywoman voice. Vulnerable and passionate, she occasionally strains to hit notes, making the fractured quality of the songs even more authentic. These intimate performances are not made for the masses or background listening, and are all the more potent for that.