While You Weren’t Looking
Approximately a quarter of a million people were members of the band Whiskeytown at one time or another. But through it all, impossibly fickle bandleader Ryan Adams was smart enough to know that Caitlin Cary was a keeper. Playing Emmylou Harris to his Gram Parsons, Cary sang sweet harmonies and contributed her distinctive fiddle sound to the band’s recorded work.
Since the dissolution of Whiskeytown, Adams has of course become a friend of Elton John and a magazine cover boy and has reportedly recorded about 85 new albums that have yet to see the light of day in addition to the two he has released. Cary, meanwhile, has been holed up in a studio with ex-dB Chris Stamey painstakingly recording this solo record, a follow-up to 2000’s tantalizingly brief teaser Waltzie EP. And While You Weren’t Looking is definitely worth the wait.
Cary’s pretty, pure alto sounds fantastic on jangly opener “Shallow Heart, Shallow Water.” Ex-Whiskeytowner Mike Daly co-wrote the tune along with a number of others on the record, and contributes pedal steel. Cary’s fiddle makes its first appearance on the terrific “Please Don’t Hurry Your Heart,” on which Adams shares a writing credit. This one sounds more like the Whiskeytown of old than just about anything on the band’s swan song, Pneumonia. Also joining Cary for a couple of songs is singer-songwriter Thad Cockrell, whose voice intertwines nicely with Cary’s on the twangy “Thick Walls Down.” In fact, Cockrell sounds a tad like Adams himself come to think of it.
Cary covered Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Withered And Died” on Waltzie, and you get the feeling from listening to While You Weren’t Looking that she has studied Linda’s phrasing very carefully. In general, Cary’s well-observed lyrics complement songs that breathe a bit more than those of her former bandmate Adams. She doesn’t sound like she’s trying too hard to impress like Adams does sometimes either. Long after Adams has “burned up hard and bright,” we may still be listening to the passion and pauses in the songs contained here.
The CD comes with a mini bonus disc that is highlighted by something of a holy grail for Whiskeytown fans, a studio version of “The Battle,” which Cary and Adams performed on Austin City Limits back in the day. It’s a haunting, beautifully harmonized number about alcoholism and other vices. There are also a couple of alternate takes of the album track “The Fair,” including one featuring a quirky vocal by ex-Backslider Chip Robinson.