Catie Curtis,
My Shirt Looks Good On You
(Rykodisc, 2001)

Folk singers. Don't you just love to hang on their every self-written word about love, the downtrodden, love, social issues, love, politics and love, as they sit on a stool with their acoustic guitar and sing their heart out? I do.

Catie Curtis is a Boston-based, guitar-playing singer-songwriter. She hooked me with her first two CDs, which were the folk-singer-with-stool-and-guitar variety. On her fourth album, My Shirt Looks Good On You, Catie gives us a group of folk/rock/pop songs with more of a full production, band-oriented sound than her earlier offerings. Catie's distinctive vocal style and talent for storytelling shines through on her relationship- and issue-oriented folk tunes. Because those are my favorites, it took me a while to warm up to this CD, but it really has grown on me. It's good music from an evolving performer.

For this effort, Catie's core band includes two drummers, Billy Conway and Billy Beard, plus Jimmy Ryan on electric mandolin and Andrew Mazzone on bass. In addition to "the guys," Julie Wolf played keyboards on several tracks and Gail Ann Dorsey (bass player for David Bowie and Dar Williams on tour) filled in on bass when Andrew was busy with law school. Dana Colley and Duke Levine add some color with the sax and electric guitar, respectively, on a couple of tunes each.

Straddling the pop/folk genre lines, the CD starts out with "Run," a musically interesting song with an echo treatment on the vocals accompanied by a cocktail drumbeat and Jimmy Ryan's ever-present mandolin. My favorite pop song on the album is "Kiss That Counted." Its uptempo, catchy hook is sandwiched between verses of Catie's unique vocals on this song about realizing that you've found THE ONE. "My Shirt Looks Good On You" is my least favorite song in the group. Although it's a cute title, the numerous melodies in a short song with less than memorable lyrics caused me to question this selection as the title track.

Catie gives us a few relationship songs that are always great to reflect on while you're struggling with or ecstatic about your own. "Elizabeth" tells of the emotions shared by a couple when one person is on the road. "Now" uses an unrelenting drumbeat to accent a retrospective look at a failed relationship. A Wurlitzer provides an ethereal background on the slow, weighty ballad "Hush."

Catie tugs at our hearts with her story songs. You can feel the anguish of pregnant Rhonda Lee while she ponders taking a "Walk Along the Highway" to escape a drunken husband who is "not the family kind." The hard experience of farm workers enduring the pre-harvest practice of sugar cane burning in Louisiana is the subject of "Sugar Cane." "Love Takes the Best of You" is about an international adoption and the lyrics, from the point of view of a mother to her child, are perfect. Catie wrote "The Big Reprise" in response to a church fire in Maine. In it she asks and tries to answer the big question we all ask when something inexplicably bad happens to good people: Why?

I discovered Catie about four years ago and have been very fortunate to see two of her live performances. The first time was with her band at Lilith Fair. The second time was as the opener for Mary-Chapin Carpenter. Always the hopeful fan, I took all my Catie CDs for autographs and wore my "RADICAL/Catie Curtis/Truth From Lies" T-shirt. She was very gracious and friendly. For her performance, she was alone, with a stool and an acoustic guitar. The audience was so entranced you could have heard a pin drop. It was just the way I like my folk singers.

[ by Valerie Fasimpaur ]
Rambles: 30 March 2002

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