Catherine Irwin – “Save Our Ship” (MP3) (PopMatters Premiere)

You know how you can tell that Catherine Irwin’s alt-country musings are the real deal? Yeah, her craggy, weathered, yet resonant voice has a soulful, old-timey feel, and her blues-tinged folk picking conveys a timeless Americana quality to it. But it’s the fact that Irwin helped to define and build a genre before it actually existed that speaks to the authenticity of her work, as her band Freakwater was one of the acts that led the way for No Depression’s breakthrough in the mid-1990s.

“Save Our Ship”, from Irwin’s upcoming release Little Heater (Thrill Jockey), speaks to her gifts as a songwriter who’s able to create something that’s warm and reverent, while putting her own twist on a time-tested formula to keep you engaged. To hear her tell about it, the song is a bit surreal and stream-of-consciousness: “‘Save Our Ship’ is a pirate song. When I was writing it, I was thinking, ‘Johnny Depp is from Kentucky and I am from Kentucky. Maybe he will hear this song and then we will be friends. And Keith Richards plays his father in those movies and they are probably already friends. That might also work out really well for me.” The unlikely theme of “Save Our Ship” is one thing, but all the well-worn elements have a familiar richness and depth to them, whether it’s in Irwin’s twangy accent or her nostalgically tuneful acoustic guitars or the heart-tugging twinge of melancholy fiddle.

Little Heater will be released on September 18.