Brave And Wild
Independent release, 2009
REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/24/2009
Every so often, our Fearless Leader sends me an envelope or box of... stuff. We've worked together for almost ten years, so he has some idea of what I like; his guesses are, more often than not, on target. Every so often he sends me a clunker, but most of the time it's pretty near genius.
Put a tally in the genius column with the debut album from Susan Cattaneo, Brave And Wild. I didn't know what to expect from a woman who splits her time between Nashville and teaching songwriting at the Berklee College Of Music, but what I got was a kick-ass heaping helping of country, rock, and just a little blue-eyed soul. Cattaneo's voice is somewhere between 'national treasure' and 'weapon of mass destruction;’ she runs an elegant gauntlet between gently expressive and passionately vibrant. I had trouble believing the same woman sang "Lay Your Heart On Me" and "Red Light Kiss”; both songs, however, were performed with skill and panache.
What really makes Brave And Wild a classic, though, is the songwriting. Cattaneo is a sublime lyricist; she can turn a phrase so that it sticks insistently in your head. The disc’s opener, the bluesy/honky-tonk "Wrecking Ball,” could have been painfully cliché-ridden; instead, Cattaneo's delivery and wording turns the song into one of the best 'dump the bastard' songs ever written. It takes a special talent to sing "My regrets are piling up like your empty beer cans on the porch..." and pull it off. Cattaneo does it without breaking a sweat. She can also handle mid-tempo country rock (the cruising "Love Takes What It Takes") and softer, almost soulful numbers ("Get Back the Longing").
All of this pales, however, when held up to "Just Want To Know That It Mattered." There are few songwriters who can capture wistful nostalgia and growing older with any skill at all; past Dan Fogelberg, Jim Croce, Cheryl Wheeler, and Harry Chapin, the list grows damned thin. Susan Cattaneo belongs on that list with this stark snapshot of singing to a past lover; the line "Does it ever get crowded / When old memories come to call?" sends shivers down my spine.
Look, I could go through this album song by song and tell you why Susan Cattaneo's Brave And Wild is a serious contender for my release of the year, but that would take away time that you could be spending finding this CD, buying it, and being overwhelmed by its greatness. Right out of the box, Susan Cattaneo hits a home run. I look forward to more of her work.