Inner North (Mountain King Music/MGM)
Look, it’s not for me to suggest Cat Canteri has a bleak eye on the world. There is evidence she quite likes living, has made records with her frequent partner Justin Bernasconi that crackle with joy, and even here on a track such as Crazy I’ve Been, she can make you want to pull up to this honky tonk and search for a (dance, or otherwise) partner to kick up heels and let go.
But man oh man, even as you’re enjoying the outside as it were - as a listener who can sing, dance, tap the wheel as you’re driving or, yes, leave that stinkin’ joint/partner which didn’t deserve you, across the 11 highly enjoyable songs here - things don’t go right all that often inside a Canteri song.
Take Crazy I’ve Been as an example. It begins with her seeing a picture of “three of us singin” when “songs and the whiskey never stopped flowin’ til the sun came up again”. On the skating drums and bass of Justin Olsson and Ben Frantz, with Bernasconi putting a big twang on top, it’s a warm memory, a taste of good, a call to move.
Except that this was “back when we used to be friends” and the vocalising outfit haven’t been three-as-one for a good while, for reasons that become clear soon enough. “I’ve been pretending it’s not my problem I stabbed you in the back,” Canteri sings, and she’s already admitted that wishin’ and hopin’ ain’t gonna fix nothin’ after that because “cowboys can solve all their trouble with beer at the end of the night, but women like us never forget those shit things you said in a fight.”
Cheer up? Nup. Look at the next song. I mean even racking up a line or three by “two girls in the spring rain, cool mountain air” can’t come over with abandon in Remember The Time. Here, in a slow, quiet intro worthy of a Townes Van Zandt weepie, Canteri almost sighs with a lifetime’s regrets as she sings “do you remember the time we took cocaine to ride into the dark, under the stars”.
You can’t say Canteri hasn’t given you sufficient warning by the time you get to those two songs. The album opens with a burst of declamatory guitars and hard splashed cymbals, the blues strong in the bones of The Only One which comes at you with a low moan of loss. Canteri’s protagonist has woken up to the fact the only person she’s loved is not coming back to her and “those cat and mouse games I played so long” have had their final payout. As with the bulk of the album even here there isn’t anger, just a bruised recognition of the truth.
After the tough-minded country rock of Out Of My League (yep, you guessed it, the character sees herself on the downside, but this time she didn’t lose out; she just wonders if she may not have deserved to win) and the straight rock-with-lightness of Fitzroy Bowl (a frank remembrance of a school friend who went from care to pushing a trolley “past Rushall Station to where the homeless stay”), Pentridge Wasteland is a folk song in sparse modern clothes that in the grand tradition of folk finds a woman wearing the cost of men’s bastardry in shame and physical punishment, but surviving them all one way or another.
The trick Canteri pulls off here is in making bleak tales eminently palatable through working the angles, whether the blue-eyed soul of Tram Stop (did that little down-running guitar figure) and the melody line of Fitzroy Bowl, or the pretty country air of Take Me Away. Her eye may be bleak, but her ear sure isn’t.