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CD Reviews:  Caitlin Cary: While You Weren't Looking

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Who'd have ever known? All those years…okay, so it was just five short years…the band Whiskeytown was filling three spectacular studio albums with passionate folk rock and country punk songs, the now-visible frontman Ryan Adams was not the only true talent among them. Caitlin Cary helped found the little-known Raleigh, NC quintet, as well as supplying the fiddle and violin, occasional songwriting, and that intoxicating background vocal. Fortunately, Cary's seductive crooning and vastly underrated writing did not die when Whiskeytown disbanded in 1999.

With the help of veteran jangle pop producer Chris Stamey behind the boards and her Whiskeytown comrades Mike Daly (guitar), Eric Gilmore (drums) and former Jayhawk Jen Gunderman (piano/organ), Cary has crafted a bright and wispy folk pop marvel in the aptly-titled While You Weren't Looking. "Shallow Heart, Shallow Water" might make Sarah McLachlan blush with jealousy, as the simple and catchy title repeats throughout like a beautiful nursery rhyme. The stylish, if even predictable, blend of acoustic guitars dueling with a Whiskeytown-like slide guitar provides the sweet backdrop for Cary's vibrant lead vocals. "Please Don't Hurry Your Heart" is co-written with Ryan Adams, and could well have made 1997's Stranger's Almanac, but likely would have featured Adams voice back then. Not even the most devout Ryan Adams fan will be crying foul after hearing Cary pull off this gem. The more somber moments, like "What Will You Do?" and "Sorry," while not as dynamic, are delivered with such swelling intention that they stand perfectly in the landscape of this entire project.

The album never wallows in pity for long, mind you. When "Thick Walls Down" kicks in midway through, Cary and company display the obvious strengths of their lusty pop convictions. Only thing is, conventional pop lacks the kind of stirring emotion and poignancy that Cary spews in "The Fair," with lines like, "Try to keep the carousel horses alive, as the Summer of you and he dies." Time and again, the architect of these flowering, country-tinged compositions is crying out to be heard, though not crying as much as gently convincing. Caitlin Cary's time in the background shadows has expired, and the stage that is now hers seems to fit perfectly. With past dues firmly paid, the future of this genre needs to prepare for a budding new fixture.

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