When Whiskeytown split up way back when, its two main songwriters, Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary, forked in two extremely different directions. While Adams’ output has ranged from Dylanesque folk to power chord chugging stadium rock, Cary stayed true to her roots, playing sweet, mostly straightforward alt-country in the vein of her former band. While her releases were “safer” than her former bandmate’s, they still appealed to the no depression crowd, while maintaining a consistent quality of output. On her latest effort, Begonias, Cary has paired up with yet another songwriter, Thad Cockerell.
To say that the sound of Cary and Cockerell together is reminiscent of her days with Adams would be misleading, though there is a strong Whiskeytown sound to Begonias. Unlike the more Fairport Convention-leaning Brit-folk of her early solo releases, Cary and Cockerell get back to a more American-bred C&W sound, one of a quality that Big & Rich fans will never understand.
Begonias features a fine selection of (alt) country for those looking for something more genuine. It begins with a ballad, for Chrissakes, the slow, but graceful “Two Different Things,” which is followed by immediate standout “Something Less Than Something More,” a lap-steel, brush-drumming good time with lots of Southwestern flair. But “Second Option,” a rough-hewn and rugged rocker, is where Cary begins to return to the sound that she was first known for. The faint smell of Whiskey(town) lingers on this track, so much that Cockerell even begins to sound a little like Ryan Adams.
But hey, we’re not here to relive the past. That in mind, there are plenty of new songs, be they familiar sounding or not, to listen to and enjoy. “Please Break My Heart” is a slow, dreamy waltz with all the tenderness of a Patsy Cline classic. The honky tonk “Don’t Make It Better” is another highlight, so fun and upbeat, it makes me want to break out the Western shirt and pop open a Lone Star, even if these cats aren’t from Texas. The same goes for “Party Time,” a song about someone stuck on the though of his gal while all his chums want to go and tie one on.
As the old joke goes, if you play a country album backwards, the singer falls in love, gets all his money back and stops drinking. I’m afraid the same goes for this record. It may be a sad, tear-in-my-beer kind of country album, but dammit, that’s just fine with me. Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockerell have made a genuine heartbreaker of an album. I’d like to see Cowboy Troy try and pull that off.
Whiskeytown – Strangers Almanac
Son Volt – Straightaways
Neko Case and Her Boyfriends – Furnace Room Lullaby
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.