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Caitlin Cary, Thad Cockrell plant begonias

By Tom Geddie, July 2005

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The delicate mix of Cockrell's clear tenor and Cary's mid-range soprano is traditional enough - without losing freshness - to make this a country album; the consistently solid lyrics often explore the universal themes of the crud that accumulates around, and suffocates, love.

The duo's pleading interpretation of the Percy Sledge hit "(let me wrap you in my) Warm & Tender Love" is one of the CD's highlights, turning the old R&B song into pure country soul.

"Please Break My Heart," which Cary recorded on her most recent solo CD, becomes a more complex song as a duet. Cary said it's done "the way that Ray Charles and Betty Carter might have recorded it: plainly spoken, but with a lot of stylistic details that come straight out of the early Sixties."

Caitlin said the song originated in a barroom conversation.

"Thad came into the bar where I was bartending, and we got into a conversation about how it's really hard to write songs when you're happy. I think I said something like, 'I wish somebody would break my heart, just for a minute, so I could get five good songs out of it, and then I'd be okay again,'" she says. "Thad said that sounded like a great idea for a song. He went home, wrote it and brought it to me for tweaking."

The two pretty much split the CD's creative work down the middle, one taking the lead on this song, the other on that one.

"Some songs Thad had much more finished, and I contributed a word here or there or maybe added a bridge," Cary says. "Other songs, Thad had a line, and we wrote back and forth together. Other songs were more whole for me, and Thad has the guitar in his hands, and he's really great at catching the feel of the song if you throw out a few lines and a melody."

Cary typically writes in her head and wants the lyrics to be "of a piece" before she adds instrumentals.

Cockrell's simple, straightforward writing complements Cary's literary style.

"Saying 'I love you baby' is a perfectly viable thing in a song, and if you put it with the right music it's beautiful," Cary says. "I strive to remember to write like a kid when I write songs. That's why I like to work with Thad; he can say things in plainspoken language and he has this beautiful voice with so much passion. I can get in touch with some of that. When I write for my own records or by myself, I tend to think, 'uh oh, here comes the big concept, what are we going to do with this?'"

Cockrell is conscious of his simple approach.

"I mostly write country songs, and the brilliance of country songs is in how plainspoken they are," says Cockrell, an undergraduate public relations and journalism student.

"What's clever to me about great country songs like Willie Nelson's is that they don't filter or try to reword their thoughts. Now, with so much of country music today, it seems like the punch line at the end of a knock-knock joke. To me, what's brilliant is you can't believe they said it so plain."

Cockrell "writes his mind," he says, rather than trying to spend much time trying to figure out what people want to hear.

"I try to make the music I make and to be as kind as possible to the people who come out to support my music," he says.

Cary frequently co-writes and loves the duet approach, which she says adds an extra level of "artistic sympathy when you know you're going to be singing the song together.

"I value the fact that music is between people," she says. "There's total give and take between you and the people making it."

From time to time, she admits, she'd rather keep a song for herself to keep it whole, "but maybe 7 times out of 10 somebody I trust can come in and help."

Cockrell is more likely to write alone, except for the good fit with Cary.

"We just wrote the songs and went in and recorded them without a whole lot of fuss," Cockrell says of "Begonias." "I love things like Bob Dylan's 'Nashville Skyline' and Willie Nelson's 'Phases and Stages,' where they just went in and played them."

Cockrell suggested that Brad Jones produce "Begonias," which came out of those Sunday porch sessions. Jones worked with Josh Rouse, Jill Sobule and Butterfly Boucher. More important to Cary was that Jones worked with Dolly Varden, whose CD "very seldom leaves my CD player."

Cockrell said he trusted Jones for several reasons. "I'd heard him with Josh Rouse, and everything just sounded good," he says. "It didn't sound throwback, and it didn't sound completely here and now. It was timeless sounding stuff."

With the duet album added to their basket, the two friends continue to move forward.

Cockrell, who has relocated to Nashville to keep writing songs for his solo work, says he can't wait to make another duet CD.

Cary just got back from a "fairy tale trip" to Europe with Tres Chicas, where they worked with keyboard player Geraint Watkins (who worked with Nick Lowe and Paul McCartney).

"Geraint and his producer liked Tres Chicas, and we went and recorded a CD," she says. "Lot of people from the English rock scene from the late 1950s and early 1960s came to play on it."

The still-unnamed CD is due from YepRoc in the fall.

"I'm just trying to figure out who I am becoming for the next phase of my life," Cary says.

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