Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In The Toolbox: Begonias (2005)

I never have understood the term 'critically acclaimed.' I mean, if the acclaim of critics is important enough to note at every chance, shouldn't people (record companies for one) take their opinions more seriously. The term instead has become a stigmatic warning that equates to one saying "this record didn't sell shit, but I - and a few of my colleagues - really dig it."

But it really is a shame that the opinions of some of the most qualified music aficionados out there fall upon deaf ears. The people that make the decision of 'what should I listen to' for the majority of the country are money-minded, corporate radio operators and mega-conglomerate record execs. This leaves the nation blindly believing that what they hear on their speakers is the best music out there. If only they knew...........

Can you imagine if the Midwest housewife that grew up on a diet of Patsy Cline and Porter Wagoner knew what Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell did for country music back in '05? Well, they made Begonias, a stunningly beautiful REAL country album. By the way - it was critically acclaimed all over the place - just check out this rap sheet.

Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell - Begonias
(Yep Roc, 2005)

Caitlin, the velvet-voiced violinist formerly of Whiskeytown, found in Thad a perfectly complimentary tenor tone. Thad Cockrell, the son of a baptist preacher, took to songwriting in college and when the two found themselves looking for work in Raleigh, NC, the pieces just fell into place. Begonias is at once sad, classic country and hopeful, modern folk.

The disc strolls in with a modest-tempo tune, Thad leading the way. Immediately you recognize the effortlessness in his upper-range tenor. Caitlin covers the last line in the first verse with angelic harmony, setting the tone for what will prove to be a record of vocal perfection.

Two Different Things

The duo keeps the album fresh with each track; "Something Less Than Something More" unique in its contrast. Heavy steel guitar and haunting vocals are countered by driving tom brushes that keep the song moving. "Second Option" can easily be considered the stand out alt-country tune with an original melody, electric guitar sparingly displayed, and even a timely bridge/solo break. But just as Begonias has picked up speed and lifted spirits, Caitlin drops you to your knees with her a capella intro to "Please Break My Heart." This throwback tune evokes a long-lost Patsy Cline/Buddy Holly collaboration, toeing the line between country gold and doo-wap.

The album highlight comes at track 7. Truly one of the most beautifully written and performed songs I've heard, "Warm and Tender Love" is what country music should sound like. This song simply speaks for itself.

Warm and Tender Love

The back half of the disc does have its low points, interestingly coming from the faster-paced songs that come across as hokey. The album, however, finishes very strong. Written from an interesting point of view, "Conversations About A Friend" tells the story of the fate of a pair of lovers from the perspective of the friends that originally set them up. Caitlin and Thad take you back South, where they dread the cold winter days, "Waiting on June." Country music is inherently sad, and this album stays true to that. Not in the clich├ęd 'my wife left me and my dog died' fashion, but in pure, heartbreaking stories told in the simplest way. Begonias is wrapped up with its saddest effort. Sparse insturmentation allows the couple's dripping vocals to shine in the beginning of this desperate tune, but when the emotion has nowhere else to go, it manifests itself into a full band escort to the "Big House."

Big House

So there's just one more bit of 'critical acclaim' for Caitlin and Thad. It may not get them played on any mainstream radio show, and may only equate to a few more album sales, but if I can get the word out to enough ears, the music will do the work itself.

Purchase Begonias [Direct] [Amazon] [iTunes]

Caitlin Cary [Website][MySpace]
Thad Cockrell [Website][MySpace]

Previously Posted on In The Toolbox:
Dublin Blues
John Prine
Red Headed Stranger


  1. Thanks for highlighting this amazing disc. I'm proud to say I've owned it since it first came out and it get regular rotation. Along with Cold Rose and Jacksonville City Nights, this made 2005 a banner year.

  2. Couldn't agree more. But don't forget 29 - it's been stuck in my player for a the last couple weeks.

  3. Nice version of Warm and Tender Love. It's not really a country song. They gave it a country flavor. Percy Sledge recorded Warm and Tender Love back in the 60s. It will always be one of the outstanding soul music songs of that era.

  4. Wow, I had no idea...

    Thanks for the info.

  5. I couldn't agree more - this is a stunning album!

  6. Phenomenal, great call. Along the lines of great albums that I missed when they came out but are still worth plugging is Romantica's 2007 disc, America. Awesome!