Emmylou Harris. Ryan Adams. Some variation of the phrase “second fiddle.” Thanks, I wanted to get those three things out of the way, all apparently mandatory in a review of Caitlin Cary’s full-length debut, so we can focus on the important stuff: namely, that the wide-ranging While You Weren’t Looking is a monument to Cary’s talents, finally fully revealed, and her belief in old-fashioned teamwork. The sparkling opening to the first track, “Shallow Heart, Shallow Water,” serves notice that you’re in expert hands, a place you’ll be happy to stay for the next hour. Along the way you’ll encounter the Brill Building pop of “Pony,” the American Studios circa-’69 sound of “Too Many Keys,” and the exhilarating roots rock of “Thick Walls Down.” On the quirky side of things, and at the end of the four-song disc that accompanies early pressings, you’ll find “Keys to the Fair,” a curious number built around the carnival-barker narration of ex-Backslider Chip Robinson. And that’s just a partial highlights list.
Supporting the teamwork claim is the fact that all but one song on While You Weren’t Looking is a co-write. Glory Fountain’s Lynn Blakey, Adams, MVP multi-instrumentalist Mike Daly, pure-country artist Thad Cockrell and the album’s producer Chris Stamey all share songwriting credits; Daly, Skillet Gilmore (holding down the drummer/spouse slot), bass player Mike Santoro, and keyboardist Jen Gunderman form the album’s core band. Then there’s the Triangle-centric roots-pop Who’s Who that backs up and harmonizes with Cary, including Cockrell, the Mayflies U.S.A.’s Adam Price and Cary’s Tres Chicas partners Blakey and Tonya Lamm.
But make no mistake, Cary’s the coach of this team, and it’s her images and the moods she creates that you’ll get lost in.