Caitlin Rose - The Stand In (****)
Tiptoeing the divide between showiness and subtlety, Caitlin Rose has a voice all-but guaranteed to melt hearts. Velvet-soft and effortlessly emotive, the 25-year-old Nashville native clearly has the capacity to belt out the high notes, but the good sense to know she doesn’t always have to, her tender restraint infinitely more affecting than any big-lunged talent show warbler. But while arguably the star attraction, there’s more to recommend The Stand In than just a pretty voice.
As on debut Own Side Now, Rose’s hometown heritage shapes her sound significantly; if anything, The Stand In’s fuller arrangements at times move Rose closer to her more mainstream modern country contemporaries, not further. But throughout, the songwriting remains distinguished and immaculately pitched, whether it’s walking a melancholic waltz (Pink Champagne) or an upbeat strut (Waitin’). Her mastery of melody yields soulful results that are proud of their roots yet gratifyingly unbeholden to them.
Conny Ochs - Black Happy (**)
Best known for his collaboration with doom merchant Wino, German singer-songwriter Conny Ochs returns to a simple solo set-up with second album Black Happy. Though a seasoned performer with many years of music-making under his belt, Ochs’ preferred lyrical topics – pain, sadness, disenchantment – have a tendency to evoke overdone adolescent angst rather than the more profound weltschmerz they presumably shoot for; less like a soul laid bare and more like a teenager glowering that no one understands them.
But that’s not to write Black Happy off entirely, with a scattering of successes present amongst the glum humdrum – an unexpectedly well-turned phrase here, an impassioned delivery there. No Sleep Tonight is an example of the latter quality, with its considerable clichés transcended by a convincing vigour, while the fingerpicked calm of Stable Chaos demonstrates a rarely-used grace – a simplicity that possesses far more appeal than the overwrought emotions plied elsewhere.
Julia Kent - Character (***)
Cellist Julia Kent describes third solo album Character in evocatively conceptual terms, its ten instrumental pieces a musical musing on life’s unpredictability, particularly the lack of control each of us have in our own futures. It’s a suitably grand theme for an album that has a pronounced transportive power, its affecting serenity capable of sparking the same kind of meditative introspection in the listener as that which reportedly drove its creation.
Using loops and beds of found sound, Kent bows palliating melodies with low key exactitude, and it’s initially a profoundly immersive listening experience. But Kent’s talents can’t keep Character’s quality up for its full duration; after a while, the textures blur and the willing sense of absorption fades into distraction, with tracks too similar in sound for all to possess their own distinct tenor. While it lasts, however, the spell cast is strongly felt, and therefore worth seeking exposure too.