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The Caitlin Rose Makes Her SF Debut At Cafe Du Nord And A Beautiful City Just Got More Beautiful...Or, Be True To Your School...

The Caitlin by RLC
Young musicians playing live these days often come in a variety of “packages”, with several stances on display. You have “youth in revolt”, middle finger proudly raised, rallying against the world. “Apathetic youth” with hangdog disaffection and a hint of apology on full display. “Earnest youth” trying to win you over with willful community building exercises. Then there is something rarer, subtler and less contrived, performers that both exude a natural confidence, while at the same time, bearing a real and unfiltered vulnerability. I witnessed one such performer at San Francisco’s Café Du Nord opening for Ron Sexsmith on Thursday night. The performer should not be a stranger to the readers of this blog but to San Francisco she is largely unknown. Caitlin Rose was in town to mark her SF debut in support of her highly acclaimed full-length album, Own Side Now. This Nashville singer-songwriter - accompanied by Jeremy Fetzer on guitar and Spencer Cullum Jr on pedal steel – played a forty-five minute set of some of the prettiest, heartfelt, and wry songs that belie the relatively young age of Rose. Many reviewers point to pedigree to explain her precocious grasp of human nature and love’s true ways – Caitlin’s mother Liz is an acclaimed songwriter. But Liz Rose didn’t live these particular experiences, love these boys and put these words, melodies, and chords together, Caitlin did. So we can dispense with the backstory and get to the reviewing.
Three was a magic number at Cafe Du by RLC
It was refreshing to see a scaled back line-up, offering a break from the more traditional “rock band” set up. This really suited the individual playing and put the focus firmly on Rose’s emotive and powerful voice and the words being emitted. The older crowd gathered were largely there to see Sexsmith but many had heard the “buzz” Rose has created in Europe – where she has been whole-heartedly embraced. With each song the audience moved closer and the room filled in. Rose has an easy charm, a combination of the girl-next-door with the girl-you-wouldn’t-want-to-cross. Opener “Learning to Ride” was treated gently and served as a perfect introduction to her songs for the unfamiliar audience. The interplay between Fetzer and Cullum Jr. was a real pleasure to watch, both are studies in restraint and how one well-placed note speaks volumes.
Pay attention, you might learn something. RLC
Rose’s gifted voice can ache with the best of country music’s hallowed female singers she often gets compared to. But, there is a modern quality to how she approaches a traditional form. Her songs have just as much in common with Jackson Browne as Patsy Cline. When she played “
Own Side” the stage seemed to dissolve into a bedroom, with Rose strumming her guitar, while purging the demons of her self-destructive nature on the edge of her bed. Her intro to the song “New York” was an interesting moment to watch an artist come to terms with the change in meaning for one of their songs. She noted that the song was originally written as a slag against a city she may not have been ready for yet and an unwelcomed invitation she received there but time, travel, and experience made the song come off more as a celebration of the triumphs the city represents.
Jeremy by RLC
Spare Me” was a great mid-tempo tune that allowed Fetzer to cut lose and display some fine leads. He dials in the classic tone you associate with country music, while also underlying Rose’s vocal flourishes with subtle, delicately picked notes. The same can be said for Cullum Jr.’s truly wonderful atmospheric playing. Both musicians are steeped in the tradition without feeling soulless in the execution. If there is any justice in the music world the song “Shanghai Cigarettes” will not only be a huge hit – replacing some of the inexplicable “hits” topping country charts currently – but also, be covered by as many artists and in as many different languages as possible. Yes, it’s that good a song. It is much more in the pop vein structurally and may be a window into the types of songs Rose is capable of writing in the future. This song had every butt in the room tick-tocking in time with the driving chorus. For me one of the highlights of the set was a song that I’d never heard her perform and was treated very differently than on the album, “Comin Up”. It showcases Rose’s vulnerability as an artist and then shifts in the middle section into a bawdy honky-tonk stomp. The song captures Caitlin Rose at this point in her career, confident in who she is and tough enough to allow her personal and emotional flaws to be exposed. She is able to translate that as a performer in a way that is not affected or a stance but genuine. By the end of the set the audience was at a Caitlin Rose show as sure as they thought they were at the Ron Sexsmith show.

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