There’s something slippery about the music on Caitlin Rose‘s new album, CAZIMI. Rose has a pleasant voice that slides in and out of the instrumentation like a kid playing hide and go seek in the house on a rainy day. She sings the melodies (mostly) without catchy hooks so that the lyrics float on top of the instrumentation without giving the listener something on which to grab. The effect purposely blurs the distinctions between what is sung and what is heard. Think of the result as sort of a sonic impressionist painting. The blurring is intentional and purposeful.
That said, a lot is going on in the music. Rose is accompanied by a host of talented players, including Ethan Ballinger (guitars), Spencer Cullum (pedal steel), Dom Billet (drums, percussion), Jeremy Fetzer (guitars), Ian Fitchuk (drums), Austin Hoke (cello), Brian Kotzur (percussion, drums), Jack Lawrence (bass), Jordan Lehning (acoustic, guitars, keys, percussion, piano), Ian Miller (piano), Luke Schneider (pedal steel, guitars), William Tyler (acoustic, guitars), Jerry Roe (drums, percussion), Sean Thompson (guitars), and Courtney Marie Andrews on background vocals. Rose wrote or co-wrote the vast majority of the songs. She and Lehning co-produced the record.
The lyrical content is intentionally obscure. The opening track, “Carried Away”, sets the theme. “Everything in this world is make-believe, baby,” Rose sings to her lover. Lines like this in which reality is questioned can frequently be found throughout CAZIMI. The narrators of her songs don’t know if love exists, the truth from lies, or the tender from the rough. The protagonists are full of self-doubt and lack confidence in their feelings. Can one fall in love with someone one has never met, she asks in “Nobody’s Sweetheart”, or does that make one a fool? This type of ambiguity regarding questions about love seems to be the record’s central theme.
CAZIMI’s title itself is purposely vague. There are no songs with the word “Cazimi” in them, and no particular references to the term can be found on the record. It’s an astrological designation for when a planet is in such close proximity to the sun that it’s considered to be in the heart of it. In the press notes, Rose explains that she defines “Cazimi” as “a place where a person can stand empowered by their own light rather than eviscerated by it”. That’s not necessarily a conflict with the traditional definition where the sun overwhelms the object at its center. But it’s also not necessarily congruent with the label.
CAZIMI is Rose’s first new full-length album in almost ten years. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter recorded it in February 2000, just before the pandemic hit. The time between when Rose first recorded the songs and when she completed production allowed her to work on the material and make changes as her perspectives on life, love, and music were altered by the transformation of the outside world. Likewise, CAZIMI is filled with people overwhelmed by changing circumstances and uncertainty.
“Call it bad timing / Call it whatever you whatever you want / I won’t spend another lifetime / Getting it wrong,” Rose sings with Courtney Marie Andrews on a lovely song they co-wrote called “Getting It Right”. It’s a truism that time changes everything. Rose understands that, like a space object that flies close to the sun, one needs to maintain one’s orbit not to be swallowed by the larger force. That means making continual adjustments, as evidenced by CAZIMI.