The title of Caitlin Robertson‘s second disc is If it Takes all Winter, but it was released just as spring weather started putting springs into our steps – I suppose one could say songs like “Minnesota in the Snow” are a hard sell in March, but this new disc is likely to ride the praise still following her first album, Coyote Blues (which we posted back in January).
So it didn’t take all winter, although in the end it’s as Minnesota as the food at Ingebretsen’s. Maybe If It Takes All Winter picks up some of it’s wintery weightiness from the Sacred Heart studio up in snowy Duluth (a brick and sandstone cathedral built in 1894) where it was recorded. That’s where Ms. Robertson thought she would be recording an EP and eventually finished a ten-track album.
If It Takes All Winter reminded me of one of my favorite 00′s album, Cold Weather by Brenda Weiler (who is from Fargo, but bless her heart she recorded that one, her first album with a band, here in Minneapolis). Both discs weave themes of winter in Minnesota alongside songs of loneliness and heartbreak. Sad, yes, but better than winter in Fargo. To lighten the album’s mood, Robertson seems to life her look at life to the sky, while Weiler was always the kind of songwriter who’d rather look at how much snow has been piling up around us. Robertson’s easygoing sense of humor doesn’t make her a “light weight” songwriter, but it does lend a jaunty confidence that makes her songs surprisingly original. “Unrequited Lover Like No Other” is a fine example – the song even has a fun arrangement that highlights the band’s range (fiddle player Ryan Young demonstrates how something very, very little can make all the difference in the world).
(“Unrequited Lover Like no Other” by Caitlin Robertson)
There is even a line about “put[ting] a record on!”
Alongside its levity, If It Takes All Winter takes its listeners into headier territory more than Coyote Blues, a debut album that steered clear of shoegazing lyrics, even in the honky tonk heartbreaker “Bar Napkin”. The next track on If It Takes All Winter, “Create Your Reality” is lyrically in line with Cold Weather, Robertson’s phrasing in the memorable chorus is even reminiscent of Weiler’s style.
(“Create Your Reality” by Caitlin Robertson)
Who is Brenda Weiler? Not really a household name I guess, but for a few years a popular Fargo-based singer-songwriter whose shows here in the Twin Cities were memorable. She recorded a total of six albums, notably Cold Weather on which she recorded with Darren Jackson (aka – Kid Dakota). Her career as a performer has been on hold for the past couple years, and her last album, End the Rain, was pretty depressing. It presented eleven songs in the order in which Weiler wrote them after her sister’s suicide.
Four years ago yesterday one of the kindest and most amazing friends I have ever had took his own life. I have over these past four years not been able to get past the first track on End the Rain, although I guess I have come to terms with my grief. Laura has contacted Weiler (we’re both big fans) who is now running a business and only sporadically performing – an invitation to sing some songs here at Hymie’s is, of course, always out there.
If It Takes All Winter doesn’t captures as full and warm a sound as Cold Weather – it is in creating this atmosphere that Kid Dakota’s guitar work is especially memorable. Robertson herself works with a really great band and a pair of great producers (Ryan Young and Frankie Lee), although her performances are absolutely the most memorable part of the album. Throughout her singing is exuberant and confident, something sometimes lacking in records by singer-songwriters like Brenda Weiler. It’s a quality that puts Robertson more comfortably in the line of country songstresses like Dolly Parton.
Kid Dakota recorded a new album last year, by the way (check it out here). I suppose it’s good for us in the Twin Cities that upper-midwest talents like Kid Dakota (and also one of our favorites Erik Koskinen, by the way) end up short of the national Americana radar (does such a thing exist?) – We get to see their shows and hear them on great local discs, but they deserve a little more credit.
Robertson falls in the same category as a songwriter. The songs on If It Takes All Winter were written after years of traveling and living far from her home state, so it provides an interesting perspective on winter in Minnesota. Memorable songwriting is not something to take lightly. It requires more than simply hard work and dedication – it requires a depth of character that can’t be faked. I guess if you really look around you can find musicians like Kid Dakota who can help record your songs, but you’ve got to start with something of substance. Think of how many records or discs you have on shelves that you never, never play anymore – I think in the end the thing that keeps others in regular rotation is the songwriter more than anything else. I still listen to Cold Weather (although it’s interesting that this sunny and warm week was the first time all winter I played it).
(“Medicine” by Brenda Weiler)
And will I keep listening to If It Takes All Winter? It’s a big record – not in the same sense that the classic concept albums have been, but in the Who’s Next? way – there aren’t any songs that seem to just be filling a space, which is often the case, especially with a record that is recorded in what seems like an awful hurry. If It Takes All Winter really is an album, rather than a collection of songs like Caitlin Robertson’s first disc was. I can’t say I love it as much as Cold Weather, but to be fair I have been listening to that one for almost ten years. I can say Robertson’s second album is one I will still be enjoying in a decade’s time.
(“If It Takes All Winter” by Caitlin Robertson)
A bonus post:
If It Takes All Winter – the “little princess” perspective
Our kids listen to music pretty much all the time. They also get to see an awful lot of it performed – in addition to the Sunday afternoon in-stores here at Hymie’s ever week they get to go to pretty much anything that’s going to be kid-friendly. Last week they saw the Honeydogs play songs from their new album, What Comes After, at the Electric Fetus and we’re already looking forward to the Cedar Cultural Center’s fun, early evening patio shows on Thursdays (or Tuesdays?) each summer.
They’re also kind of opinionated about what they like and what they don’t like. Our daughter Nova really, really liked Caitlin’s songs after hearing her play in the shop – I don’t remember if she had heard Coyote Blues or not (her #1 request is for the Annandale Cardinals), but she sure has since.
Like all toddlers, Nova’s pretty particular about her special songs. They’re the same way about favorite stories, which is something I’m pretty willing to indulge. When Nova chooses her new special song we’re going to hear it ALL THE TIME until she’s done. What’s weird about Nova is that it’s usually some local band and pretty often it’s not a good song for a little girl to be walking around and singing (for Chrissake people, watch your language. Oh shit, now I did it too. Oh shit, it’s so hard not to do it. Fuck…).
Nova’s current favorite song has been “Minnesota in the Snow”, but in general she has requested a lot of “Caitlin songs”. She has in fact even pretended to be Caitlin and sung them to us, although something always gets lost in the middle there when she does that.
Is it cool that toddlers like your music? Is it super un-cool? I guess if that’s the case I’ll erase the last part of all this. I think it’s really sweet.