Cathy Jean – In the Remains (2011)

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Cathy Jean’s In the Remains darts out with an attitude that’s both confessional and confrontational. She can be equal parts check-me-out and get-the-heck-out.

In many ways, “CBD” encapsulates that broader album aesthetic, from its crunchy musical modernity (Cathy Jean’s band adds nifty keyboards, and an arena rock-influenced riff) to a set of lyrics that range from the plainly ribald to the brutally honest. The track finds a lonesome figure looking elsewhere for carnal comfort after her man leaves for another, and only finding cold comfort there. The twin guitarists of Noah Gary and Keith Stafford sizzle through the song’s second half, as Cathy Jean conveys the song’s desperation with a voice that, by turns, recalls the soaring dynamics of Heart’s Ann Wilson, then the chirpy diva attitude of Lady Gaga and then the devastating melancholy of Billie Holiday.

Up next is “Done Sayeth,” which welds together an R&B-gospel groove, a Biblical fable and the lonely desolation found in watching an ex move on. “The Dark Ages” follows that storyline to its harrowing end, as Cathy Jean finds herself in the deepest night: “I inhale, I exhale, throw up, then repeat,” she whispers, over Mark Wenner’s wailing harmonica.

For all of its crepuscule themes, however, In the Remains is a lively listen. Just that quickly, Cathy Jean and Co. turn it up for a lithe little funk workout called “Tankin’ the Day,” set in the quiet aftermath of a party that’s gone wrong. Similarly, “Free Willy’s Bar” moves with a muscular frankness, echoing the song’s down-on-her-luck dumpster-diving tale with this torrent of angry guitars.

That, in turn, makes the sweeping strings of the title track all the more deeply affecting. Cathy Jean, in a darkly defeated rasp, sorts through a jumble of emotions following the end of an adulterous relationship. Even after all of that, she ends the tune with a quietly calamitous admonition: “I love you.”

Bassist Tom Williams then cops a thumping jazz attitude for “The 3 Bears,” which has the snappy attitude of the Little Willie John classic “Fever,” as performed by Peggy Lee. Drummer Steve Fidyk adds a ruminative rhythm to the forlorn “For More Years,” which finds Cathy Jean’s character waiting patiently by the phone while her lover chases his own dreams.

Then “Dracula” comes rattling out like a big rig being pushed to the top of a steep hill. Even a deathless embrace, it seems, is better than another endless evening alone. When Cathy Jean’s shambling groove finally grinds to a sudden halt, everything goes hauntingly silent. The stage is set for the string-driven “King Civilian,” a deeply effective rapier driven into the heart of a liar. Even while Cathy Jean admits a series of mishaps, there is a sense that the character is gaining strength from delineating everything that went wrong.
“You Shuffle” makes good on that, as Wenner’s harmonica then launches “You Shuffle” like a series of grenade blasts, echoing the song’s push-comes-to-shove moment: “Adulterer, liar, mouth breather,” Cathy Jean finally sings, all but spitting out the words. By the time she gets to “Rotting in Hope,” a sultry Ella James-inspired blues tune, Cathy Jean has achieved an emotional vista: “Why do I enable you to destroy me, while I helplessly breathe you in?”

Trumpeter Mike Crotty, who adds a forlorn line to “Rotting,” then leads a smart group of horns on “Stickin’ to my Feet,” a spicy Tex-Mex blend of flip-off comebacks and grease-popping funk. That works in crushing contrast with the finale from In the Remains, the last of this album’s dramatic musical juxtapositions. Cathy Jean uses a 911 call she made after a particularly difficult circumstance as a vehicle for a dramatic closing instrumental.

The frank themes of In the Remains, often so dusky and difficult, might not appeal to everyone. Yet, thanks to Cathy Jean’s unerring ear for a varied musical landscape, the album never falls into a rut.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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