Last year, singer-songwriter Caitlin Canty opened for Mary Chapin Carpenter on a string of dates. Audience members at some of those shows included regular patrons of the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor who were so impressed by Canty that they reached out to that venue and fervently requested they book her some shows. We have these fans to thank for the show Saturday night at the midcoast venue.
Who is Caitlin Canty and why should you go see her? I’ve only recently become a gigantic fan and for a pretty basic reason: Canty is the quintessential singer-songwriter. The genre might seem overcrowded because a zillion artists technically fall under it, which makes it easy to lose sight of why singer-songwriters are so impressive. They have two distinct sets of skills that are both tremendous and that often leave me awestruck. The fact that the same person can sing incredibly well and write such excellent songs – I can’t even …
Songwriters are my true musical heroes. Nothing helps me make sense of life better than a well-written song. Songwriters also rarely get their due, and although I’ll never be a fan of reality TV, I was pleased to learn of the new NBC show “Songland.” It’s a songwriting competition show that pairs songwriters with famous guests and a step in the right direction in terms of educating the public about the importance of songwriters.
As for Canty, she’s a Vermont native who calls Nashville, Tennessee, home. Her discography dates back to 2007, but it was her second album, 2015’s “Reckless Skyline,” that earned her a lasting spot on the proverbial map. The album opening “Get Up,” which she wrote with Steve Addabbo, won Canty a troubadour songwriting competition at the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2015. That same year, it was nominated for song of the year at the Folk Alliance International Awards. “Knock the breath out of your madness/Burn your photographs at the edges/Send your heart back where you left it” are some of the song’s lyrics.
Canty’s song “Dotted Line” from the 2016 EP “Lost in the Valley” was used in an episode of “House of Cards.” On that same EP, I found myself drawn to “North of Boston,” since my hometown of Andover, Massachusetts, is about 20 miles north of Beantown. “We were born north of Boston thirty years ago/Walked along marble halls built to feed our souls/We got all we ever wanted, all we wanted, old friend,” sings Canty in a voice that sounds like the musical equivalent of a sepia-toned photograph: part haunted, part warm and part spellbinding.
This brings me to last year’s “Motel Bouquet” and its 10 entrancing original songs that roam over plains of folk, Americana and country. It was recorded in three days in a Nashville studio and was produced by Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers). Pikelny also plays electric guitar and banjo on the record. Harmony vocals are from another favorite artist, Aoife O’Donovan. Fiddler Stuart Duncan is also all over the album. He’s been a session musician on albums by Dolly Parton, Rena McEntire and Barbara Streisand and a member of touring bands for Mark Knopler, Emmylou Harris and Robert Plant.
“Motel Bouquet” is best enjoyed in a listening session that allows time for all 10 songs. These songs can certainly stand on their own, but the way they flow together will take you on journey that will remind you that the album format – and the way it’s sequenced – still matters.
“Take Me for a Ride” opens the album on a soothing, twangy note. “How can you hold me like you do when you’re not here/How can you hold back a beating heart while it’s ringing in my ears,” sings Canty with Russ Pahl’s pedal steel guitar.
I’m not calling any of the songs on “Motel Bouquet” standouts because then I’d have to list them all, but I will mention a few lyrical highlights.
“Onto You” has these lines: “The moon is hanging low like a landlord’s light/On a dingy ceiling on a dirty sky/You’re driving up ahead and I follow two snake eyes/My heart is burning red as your tail lights/Drop put of sight into the blue.”
Here’s a live version of “Onto You”:
“River Alone” includes “Streetlights shine on power lines/Rain hangs like diamonds/A necklace for a heavy sky on a windless night.”
Then there’s “Who,” a 4 1/2-minute mediation on what I’m interpreting as heartbreak, with the lines “You took the salt from my lips/You took the love from my fingertips.” Canty’s vocals are unyielding with stark yet restrained emotion, and Duncan’s fiddle is the ghost that’s come back to haunt you. It’s an effective combination of sounds, to say the very least.
The performance in Boothbay Harbor will be a solo acoustic one from Canty, so you can expect stripped-down versions of her songs. The good news is that it means that voice and those lyrics will take center stage.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Opera House at Boothbay Harbor, 86 Townsend Ave.
HOW MUCH: $15 in advance, $20 day of show
TIX & INFO: boothbayoperahouse.com