Nashville croonette Caitlin Rose is valiantly attempting to make country music hip for all us squares this side of the Atlantic. The genre has never really taken off outside of the USA, and although the banjo has seen a revival due to pop-folk, slide-guitar and drawling yodels are still deemed to be pretty untenable over here. But on new LP The Stand-In she combines rock with the dusty Americana she's found critical acclaim for – she's drawing on her punk-rock roots and indie experience on the album, blending her Patsy Cline voice with 60s rock conventions. There's not many country songs you'd find a wailing, distorted electric guitar solo. It's still dependably American, but not in an exclusive way – there's much to appreciate for us uninitiated Brits.
'No One To Call' is a bit Who-y, with chunky guitars, major bass riffage and elegant piano. It definitely blurs the line between country and rock, and not just in a country-rock way. The typical chord progressions and distinctive accented voice is there, but it's got the big city vibe of 80s stadium rock. 'Waitin'' opens similarly, with a keyed motif almost resembling Aerosmith's 'Dream On'. Harpsichord sounds penetrate the suspense-filled smog of syncopated axes and plodding brass, and this cut owns a soulful Motown feeling, heightened by cooing backing vocals. 'Pink Champagne' features lashings of mournful slide-guitar and twinkly acoustic picking. It's a subdued toast to love, a ballroom ballad with prom-night class and the sombre timbre of an ode to death. It'll make you weep like you didn't think country would.
Undoubtedly influenced by her songwriter mother (who's penned hits for Taylor Swift, amongst others) and country music marketing exec daddy, she's been sculpting increasingly honest and pure accounts of love and life. Her lyrics are often much more mature than her 25 year old frame infers. 'I Was Cruel' starts "Loving you was the hardest thing to do sometimes/ you throw dirt in my face, then you pushed me over," recounting the horrors of a broken relationship. She then alters her perspective, pondering her own actions – this is no good vs. evil, this is a much greyer area of love. 'When I'm Gone' echoes that age-old small-town girl yearning for freedom and bigger things. It's not particularly treading new territory, but Rose's impeccably heartbreaking delivery means you'll be hooked on her tale of devastation from the off.
The cover of The Felice Brothers' 'Dallas' is about as strict roots-country as you'll come by. The slippery fawning of slide guitar, plenty of homages to the Lone Star State and a resounding patriotism. Her voice is just insanely good, the true extent of which we never quite see – just as she reaches the pinnacle, she bows out. The restraint ensures that she doesn't venture into a trite territory of Primula-grade country, as often the case with the genre, hence our stiff-upper-lipped disdain. 'Menagerie' is a melodic hog, revving and gurning with the panache of a stinky biker ruffian: "I wanna dance over broken glass and destroy all of these beautiful things." Her impish bloodlust, combined with the raucous shake-the-house-down music is simply anthemic. 'Old Numbers' visits jazz for a brief warm-down at the end of the record, faint theramins and sleazy, aged trumpets insist upon a Louisiana tone. It's almost like a death-rattle, a funeral march through old N'Awlins.
The Stand-In is full of modern-country classics: there's genre staples in abundance, and although it's plenty full of heartbreak, there are also efforts that divulge other song topics. Where the record excels is in the tracks that incorporate sounds from other genres, crafting crossover gems that truly stand out. There's sounds with devilish swagger, songs with frail emotion and songs of persistent defiance; often her album is outstanding, and there's certainly not a speck of boredom. She drags you into her shoes with down-earth sweetness, somewhat cruelly allowing you to experience all the pain she does. Country music hasn't ever taken off over here, but Caitlin Rose could easily find herself a growing cult following if she continues to release albums of this calibre.