Catie Curtis: Dreaming in Romantic Languages

Jason MacNeil

Catie Curtis

Dreaming in Romantic Languages

Label: Vanguard
US Release Date: 2004-03-16
UK Release Date: 2004-03-15

Catie Curtis is one of a dozen roots singer/songwriters that gracefully enters the pop-rock mold without embarrassing herself or her fans. Working for over 15 years now, the Boston performer is making another first of sorts -- her first album with her new label Vanguard. With all of the right people behind and in front of the mic and amps, Curtis has made sure she isn't about to fail on this, her fifth album. And while the title might evoke images of lights dimming and cuddling up to your better half, the songs ring true in an extremely earthy and organic way. And that sound is what rings this album in. "Saint Lucy" has Curtis resembling a Southern singer, but having just as much in common with Dar Williams or Patty Larkin. All the instrumentation is there -- the mandolin, an organ that veers in and out, and a horde of toe-tapping backbeats that keep it all together. Straddling folk and pop shouldn't sound this easy, but Curtis approaches it with the ease of riding a tricycle with training wheels. She also avoids that funky folk method that often butchers a song's original intent.

The soul on "Deliver Me" is another strength she plays into -- heartfelt without moving into a series of vocal theatrics. Listening to it, you can see her on a stool with acoustic guitar in hand before a fuller acoustic sound accompanies her on the remainder. "All the angels that I love, they don't hang out above", she delivers with a fragile yet Appalachian-like freedom. Kind of like Emmylou Harris three or four times removed. "Hold On" is more of a breather and suffers as a result. Not to mention that the manufactured, David Gray-ish backbeat doesn't mesh with the roots feel the song has. It's as if she's changing the song to find what will make it take off, but it rarely if ever does. Vocally, it's very good, but there is little to get your knickers in a knot over. "The Night", a cover of late Morphine frontman Mark Sandman's tune, is dark and the kind of thing people like Sarah McLachlan drool over. Curtis is more than capable of breathing new life into this tune with grace. Only talking the lyrics during the bridge does cause it to lose some of its substance, however.

Generally speaking, Curtis is comfortable giving one adult contemporary gem after another, including "It's the Way You Are", which draws favorable comparisons to Natalie Merchant, albeit a pinch slicker. When she opts for a darker, twang-ish sound on "The Trouble You Bring", she seems to be taught by Melissa Etheridge circa Breakdown. The funky style she gives off doesn't mesh with the album as a whole, but should be commended for her branching out just a bit more than usual. It also takes off after the chorus -- a vast and wide-open approach that she lets loose slightly on while her supporting cast gets to jam out on guitar and organ. Curtis has a bit of the South in her despite being a Nor'easter. This is evident on the softer, romantic "Cross over to Me", which touches the right spots at just the right times. Her harmonies are golden in this track, again recalling Mrs. McLachlan.

Kudos also should go to producer Trina Shoemaker, who has worked with Sheryl Crow and Emmylou Harris. Getting the best out of Curtis time and time again, she has her fingers all over "Life Goes On", which contains that ambient, Daniel Lanois-like sparseness used to lovable results. A blend of gospel with Americana, Curtis sounds her most vulnerable on this song and the additional instruments don't distract from that. "I've seen the angels cry in rivers over what man will do to man / And I have seen vengeance celebrated like they just don't understand", she sings a la Lucinda Williams. The highlight of the album, if not her career! "Doctor" is also another sleeper pick, with Curtis using the traditional folk style to talk about universal messages. And if you can't figure it out by the time you hear "Dark Weather", you're looking and listening to a very solid performer. Lap it up.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.