(Catline Music, CD)
Vermont, meet Toni Catlin. Toni Catlin, Vermont. Actually, you’ve met before, though you shouldn’t be faulted if you forgot. The silken-voiced songstress grew up here but has spent the last several years plying her trade in Nashville. As we all know, sometimes people need to leave our cozy corner of the world for a while before they come back to put down roots. And now, Toni Catlin is back. Folks with an ear for slickly produced, twangy folk rock — 104.7 FM The Point, we’re lookin’ in your direction — would do well to become reacquainted. And although it was released in 2006, Catlin’s Uncovered is a good place to start.
From the outset, two things are immediately clear. One, she’s an uncommonly gifted vocalist. And two, this disc came straight outta Nashville.
Speaking to the former point, Catlin possesses a clean, full-bodied timbre and has remarkable control of her abilities. She is always in command, never overestimating her range or technical prowess, which are both considerable. A talent such as hers could be excused for indulging in stylized histrionics on occasion. But she rarely does, instead relying on natural tone and an innate knack for phrasing.
To the latter point, there’s an unmistakable air of overproduction throughout the album. Some of Nashville’s most sought-after session players make up Catlin’s backing band. Their performances are impeccable, as they should be. Once you’ve played the same stock pop-country licks a few thousand times, you’re apt to get pretty good at them. But that doesn’t make them any more imaginative. Worse, such contrivances water down what is arguably Catlin’s greatest asset: compelling songwriting.
Given that artists such as Paula Cole have sold a gajillion records, there’s obviously a healthy market for airbrushed folk-pop confections. But on her best day, Cole can’t match Catlin’s nuanced wordsmithing. Perhaps now that she’s back home, the Vermonter can find some folks to sand away the glossy sheen and provide the artful grit her tunes deserve. If she does, she’ll add yet another sterling voice to the swelling chorus of local female songwriters.