Catherine Irwin – Little Heater

Rating: ★★★ · ·

It’s not often that I delve into the country-side of the music world, but when I do, it has to be for something pretty special. So when I first began to listen to this second solo record from Catherine Irwin, it was hard to really take notice of the deep songwriting, simple, yet suiting instrumentation. However, what was instantly evident was the copious amount of soul in this woman’s work.            

Such soul is evident on the first track, and runs strong from start to finish on Little Heater; the blood that courses through this album’s veins. “Mockingbird” enters with some gentle guitar and Irwin’s twang-y, classical country vocals. The lack of percussion is made up with the rhythmic strumming and the vocal help that Irwin gets from the backup singers. The result is a fuller sound, with a central focus on the songwriting and lyricism that Irwin brings to the table. The first few songs are pretty mild: “Dusty Groove,” and ”Hoopskirt” pander around shortly after the opener with similarly simple arrangements. There are still other musical elements to spice up the classic guitar/vocal acoustic sound such as some steel guitar and string work.

The heavier, and in my opinion, more interesting numbers come towards the end of Little Heater. “Save Our Ship,” employs Irwin’s deeper range, although her voice never loses that unmistakable country twang. This song stands out after things get a little one-dimensional in the progression of tracks and picks the energy up a little after a long series of songs. A big part of this song is the elegant and somber strings in the background that makes its way to the front of the mix by the end of the song. This plays for a darker, resigned sound that continues on “Pale Horse/Pale Rider.” However, on this number there, the dark aspects come from the bluesy guitar rather than the strings in the background. It’s subtle changes like this that provides for variation within the Irwin’s country style.

At the close of this rather long album, it’s clear that a whole lot of effort and time went into crafting all of these tracks. Despite not being the biggest country music fan, I still found songs that related to my musical palate in their soulful nature, but there is no doubt in my mind that those who are big country fans will love this album.  Such is a testament to the talent of a musician.

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