Singer-songwriter Catherine Irwin is quite accomplished â€“ but, you might not fully hear it on Little Heaterâ€™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, 2002â€™s Cut Yourself a Switch. Little Heater follows these efforts, but begs for more warmth.
No frills opener â€œMockingbirdâ€ places listeners in an intimate and haunting sonic space. Irwin frankly laments, â€œCrying makes my head hurt/so I donâ€™t care to cry.â€ Her heavy vocals recall Â Indigo Girl Amy Ray, and set a stark tone for the record: â€œHereâ€™s another day of living a lie.â€ Itâ€™s a thread â€“ in tone and in text â€“ that wraps firmly around such tracks as â€œSinner Saves a Saint,â€ â€œWe Must Also Love the Thieves,â€ and â€œNightshade.â€
Irwin, though, occasionally breaks from her cold weather crooning. â€œPiss and Gin,â€ Little Heaterâ€™s shortest track, packs a gritty, enjoyable punch â€“ one reminiscent of earlier, more mainstream efforts by Gretchen Wilson or Miranda Lambert. Quite ironically, Irwin continues that rise on â€œSave Our Ship.â€ Long runner â€œWhole of the Lawâ€ offers exquisite instrumentation, saving Irwinâ€™s ship once again.
â€œBanks of the Ohioâ€ 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.