Catherine Irwin Little Heater

Catherine IrwinLittle Heater
One thing that makes the history of country music endlessly intriguing is the largely unknown figures that wrote songs made famous by others. In the age of alt-country, almost every artist has the potential to be one of these, if anyone in Nashville cared to pay attention. Catherine Irwin's work has been called "alt-country" as long as the term has existed and has remained one of its key voices. She founded Freakwater with Janet Bean in 1989, establishing a distinctive female twang that was soon heard in everyone from Gillian Welch to Oh Susanna, while her songs have also been covered by Neko Case and, most recently, Kelly Hogan. The arrival of Little Heater, only Irwin's second solo album, is therefore a notable event, and nothing about it disappoints. Recorded in her familiar manner of raw, live, solo performances, embellished by soaring harmonies, with subtle touches of fiddle, pedal steel, bass and piano, the album often sounds like Irwin exposing an open wound on her soul. "Sinner Saves A Saint," "We Must Also Love the Thieves" and "The Whole of the Law" are the best examples of Irwin's resignation at the sorry state of humanity, a sentiment capped off by a version of traditional murder ballad "Banks of the Ohio," which, as always, sounds as though it was written yesterday. Yet, Irwin's gift is the strength to persevere, which she learned through the music of the Carter Family and others. These are not songs to be sold, but songs to be shared. Perhaps that's the ultimate difference between Nashville and everywhere else. (Thrill Jockey)