Caitlin Cary

While You Weren't Looking

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    7
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Breaking from the ties that bound her to Ryan Adams in her Whiskeytown days, Caitlin Cary's first full album (following her debut EP two years previous) is a beautifully realized, mature work that gently expands her boundaries while stubbornly playing to her strengths. Concentrating on her expressive, honeyed voice that falls somewhere between Fairport Convention's Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson, Cary, who co-wrote all the songs, washes her folk more on the British than American shores. Production by Chris Stamey, whose subtle approach perfectly frames these songs by placing the emphasis on Cary's marvelous singing, infuses the album with a languid, unhurried feel, giving it a comfy, low-key acoustic charm. Caitlin's violin, a major aspect of her Whiskeytown contributions, is relegated to the back burner in favor of unassuming waltzes, folk songs, and ballads, most concerning matters of the heart. While a few upbeat songs break the mood, the somber tracks that dominate this disc remain on low-boil. This showcases Cary's gorgeous voice, but the disc often gets bogged down in emotionally gripping slow tunes that, while beautifully constructed, don't resonate with the drama their lyrics so poignantly express. More variety in the textures and tempos would make for a diverse setting to better feature Cary's stunning, heartbreaking vocals. The opening "Shallow Heart, Shallow Water" shows Cary's voice soaring against jangly guitar backing and her own violin. It's also the best and most immediately captivating track. Like her photo on the cover, the other songs blur into each other, producing an even, assured, and unified album that lacks the dramatic zing that could push it to the next level, which her obvious talent deserves. Early versions included a mini-disc of four additional songs (one a duet with Ryan Adams, another with the Backsliders' Chip Robinson) that are pleasant but not essential. Robinson's Tom Waits-style boozy rasp adds a much-needed gritty edge to Cary's overriding sweetness.

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