Catherine Irwin : Little Heater

Singer-songwriter Catherine Irwin is quite accomplished – but, you might not fully hear it on Little Heater’s bare-bones, heavy-on-hesitance approach. Irwin, the co-front woman of alt-country duo Freakwater has released seven albums with band mate, Janet Bean, and an additional solo effort, 2002’s Cut Yourself a Switch. Little Heater follows these efforts, but begs for more warmth.

No frills opener “Mockingbird” places listeners in an intimate and haunting sonic space. Irwin frankly laments, “Crying makes my head hurt/so I don’t care to cry.” Her heavy vocals recall  Indigo Girl Amy Ray, and set a stark tone for the record: “Here’s another day of living a lie.” It’s a thread – in tone and in text – that wraps firmly around such tracks as “Sinner Saves a Saint,” “We Must Also Love the Thieves,” and “Nightshade.”

Irwin, though, occasionally breaks from her cold weather crooning. “Piss and Gin,” Little Heater’s shortest track, packs a gritty, enjoyable punch – one reminiscent of earlier, more mainstream efforts by Gretchen Wilson or Miranda Lambert. Quite ironically, Irwin continues that rise on “Save Our Ship.” Long runner “Whole of the Law” offers exquisite instrumentation, saving Irwin’s ship once again.

“Banks of the Ohio” brings Irwin full-circle. Back to her acoustic, up-close, and raw roots, Irwin ends her disc much like it began: haunting and vulnerable, with much of her full potential still bubbling, still begging, to surface.

Little Heater is out September 18 on Thrill Jockey.