I’m Staying Out
The second full-length record from this former Whiskeytown fiddle player may be even better than the first, last year’s excellent While You Weren’t Looking. Cary brings along with her a solid backing band, which includes keyboardist Jen Gunderman (ex-Jayhawks), guitarists Dave Bartholomew and Brian Dennis and drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk). She also enlists a few friends, like Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mitch Easter, Don Dixon, Thad Cockrell and ex-Black Crowe Audley Freed. The invaluable Chris Stamey again holds down the producer’s chair. Her Whiskeytown bandmate Mike Daly co-wrote many of the songs, but unlike on Looking, Ryan Adams is nowhere in sight.
The record is front-loaded with one great song after another. Cary’s fiddle soars on the powerful, melodic opener “Empty Rooms.” The easy-going “Sleepin’ In On Sunday” shows Cary coming into her own as both a singer and songwriter, while “The Next One” is a dramatic ballad imbued with terrific slide guitar color.
She goes the retro honky tonk piano weeper route for “Please Break My Heart,” a tune co-written with Cockrell. The biggest and best surprise, however, is “Cello Girl,” a fairly noisy rocker with cellist Jane Scarpantoni and an engaging vocal performance by Cary. “Beauty Fades” manages to be both dramatic and homespun. If the title track is a little underwhelming after all that has come before, Cary quickly gets things back on track with the character study “Lorraine Today.”
On While You Weren’t Looking, in a song called “Pony,” Cary sings: “My baby, he’s a pony / He’s the one who loves me only.” Here, “In A While” offers these lines: “You keep his picture close beside you / It’s girlish wishes that never came true / But the pony you wanted when you were a child / Is dead in the ground by now.” The album closes with “I Want to Learn to Waltz,” a gently swaying number with a touch of clarinet.
It’s not a contest, but Cary’s former bandmate Ryan Adams will be hard-pressed to come up with an album with half the depth and personality of I’m Staying Out. This supremely confident disc is easily an early standout for year-end best honors.