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“My grandmother got me a guitar when I was 13; Before that I had thought it was just a boy’s sport.”
Caitlin Cannon’s new music, a collection titled The TrashCannon Album, finds clever wordplay tackling what Caitlin calls the “inner garbage” we all have, but tend to hide away. Throughout its twelve tracks, Cannon shines a light on hard truths –a batch of songs that confronts alcoholism and addiction, dishonesty in relationships, the divisive effects of class structure, economic injustice and difficult family situations. It sounds like it might be a heavy record -- and it’s true, Caitlin does dive deep into what she’s saying -- but it’s also arranged in such a way that she makes sure you know she’s more than a few steps ahead.
Working with producer Megan Burtt, who challenged Caitlin to write one song a week in 2018, resulted in Caitlin pulling together honest songs that formed a cohesive record. “Megan and I were discussing the creative standstill I was experiencing,” Caitlin says. “We combed through a collection of songs that I had orphaned and started mapping out the album. I joked it should be called TrashCannon while Megs suggested the drummer play trash can lids instead of cymbals.” In these songs “I’m repurposing the inner trash,” she says, “and I’m almost always looking for the joke.”
A lifelong desire and talent to perform run deep in Caitlin’s blood. The Huntsville, Alabama, native, who now shuttles between Southwest Colorado and Nashville, (making side trips back to Alabama to visit her brother in prison) spent her childhood acting. “I got plucked to play child parts in plays at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville,” she says, “My early childhood was heavily influenced by the music of the Hollywood Golden Era: Gershwin and Cole Porter, and 90’s country radio.”
“You will never call my bluff cause you don’t think I’m smart enough / Til’ I show the hand I got and I take the whole damn pot,” she sings on “Dumb Blonde (Playing Dumb’s the Smartest Thing a Blonde Can Do.)” The track is complete with Django Reinhardt-like guitars; the song is an ode to women like Cannon’s idols Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, who might sometimes have played dumb but who, in fact, were anything but. And then there’s “Toolbag,” an anthemic assurance that she -- and women just like her -- are better than any man’s games. It can be inferred, perhaps, by the title, that it’s told with her trademark deadpan humor.
Suffragism is only one crusade found among the themes in the album. Other songs deal with “the alcoholic life,” says Caitlin, “which is usually shrouded in a veil of dishonesty- but you can’t lie to a song.” Caitlin wrote “Drink Enough,” whose steady Texas country rhythms would be at home on an early Kelly Willis album, back before she stopped drinking. The spare country crooner “Deliver,” is the first song she wrote since announcing her sobriety.
The heavy-handed introduction to the minor chord rocker “Mama’s A Hairdresser,” captures another part of Caitlin’s childhood: a brooding over injustice and the ragged hope eked out in trying to make ends meet and make some changes to a penal system out of balance. “The song tells the experience of my mother going to visit my brother in a maximum-security state prison in Alabama, which she has done on a regular basis for 29 years since he was 17 years old. She’s cuts enough hair to pay for the plane tickets, and continues to work on advocacy efforts for his release.” Another track that tackles family situations is the spacious, waltz-like, “Daddy-O-Mine.” Beneath the song’s crying steel guitar, Caitlin examines her relationship with her father, and the life lessons he taught her, for better or worse.
Amid the hard lessons she learned during childhood, Caitlin clung to the craft of theater. She went to Stephens College on a theater scholarship and continued acting pursuits in New York City, but was dissatisfied with the experience and turned to songwriting. “I started writing songs in my mid-‘20s,” she says. “I had lost all motivation to continue to scrutinize words and fictional characters other people had written, and needed to find out what I had to say. I was dealing with a deep sense of failure, and I did not know who I was. Writing songs (especially about where I came from) helped me figure that out. It became the most important thing in my life after that.”
Caitlin started playing in a little bar in Brooklyn with her band, Caitlin Cannon and the Artillery, a project she says was a bit off-center but still offered a classic country influence. They put out an EP that revealed her songwriting prowess as well as her deep musical influences. “Because I split my time between my Dad in Tennessee and my Mom in Alabama, I learned to sing harmony alongside Reba McEntire, Mary Chapin Carpenter and The Judds on those long morning drives. In high school I evolved into a bit of an Alt-C ultraist,” she says. “I saw Ryan Adams through his Gap commercial phase, and Jeff Tweedy through several relapses, and DBT through several bigger and better tour buses; I tried to keep an open mind while they “changed” on me.”
After breaking her elbow, Caitlin left New York City for Colorado to learn everything she could about song craft from the likes of Mary Gauthier and Daryl Scott. There she formed an all-girl band called The Cannondolls, (sometimes & Balls) and gathered a devoted following in the Four Corners area while simultaneously scratching an Andrews Sisters meets Carter family itch.
“I guess I’ve been working up the courage to do what I really want to,” says Cannon in regards to her solo album debut. The TrashCannon Album, is a testament to Cannon’s ability to write the tar out of some songs, that are damn fun to listen to, in spite of their difficult themes- And at least now we know we’re not alone in our baggage.