When Susan Cattaneo’s previous album LITTLE BIG SKY was reviewed here last year, there was a lack of clarity in where the music was heading and the subsequent effect of her talents not connecting with a truly appreciative audience. It is glad to report that there are no such blips with her latest release as HAUNTED HEART is an excellent well-directed album that has the potential to catapult Susan straight into the welcoming arms of the Americana community.
While strong reservations existed as to whether the country pop direction and chasing the hit was the appropriate outlet for Susan, the melting pot of sounds such as country, blues and rock lend a perfect accompaniment to her thoughtful song writing and versatile vocal acumen. Susan hasn’t done herself any harm in securing the services of a stellar line up of assistance whose resume extends from working with Lori Mckenna through Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale right to Mary Chapin Carpenter. Under the guidance of Lorne Entress, HAUNTED HEART is a delectable assortment of tunes tipping its hat to a style where steel sits alongside keyboards and electric guitar mingles with mandolin.
Susan has every right to be proud of this lauded collection of self-penned material which provides a stimulating 55 minutes of listening pleasure. Taking away the bookending opening prelude and closing unlisted bonus track, the remaining 13 songs each have their own defining characteristic and where better to start than the twin pair of country standards, ‘Queen of the Dancehall’ and ‘How a Cowboy Says Goodbye’. Tracks like these by contemporary artists such as Susan Cattaneo are essential to moderate the evolution of modern country music to ensure traditions are adhered to. An album of likeminded songs wouldn’t go amiss in many quarters but Susan’s style is far to varied to be constrained by a single genre and this diversity is best exemplified by the jazz/blues tones that illuminate the outstanding title track ‘Haunted Heart’ . This number oozes with sophistication, of which a similar adjective can be applied to the soothing number ‘Revival’.
|Photo by Jyoti Sackett|
A native of the North Eastern US and graduate from the prestigious Berklee College of Music, Susan has successfully managed to combine these classical influences with the rural experiences of spending time in Arizona. The more earthy side to her music surfaces in the rootsy guitar led blues number ‘Worth the Whiskey’, a subject content obligatory to an Americana album and one which Susan rises to the challenge to roughen up her style. The multifarious angles of the record head towards conventional rock in the track ‘Barn Burning’ where keyboards and electric come to the fore. While lots of artist similarities are mooted in the various press coverage, a more rounded vocal style of Eve Selis springs to mind with some of the rockier tracks. ‘Lies Between Lovers’ is another song falling into this category.
On a softer note, Susan shows that she can also be the Queen of the Balladeer with ‘Done Better’ just shading ‘Memory of the Light’ in this style of song. As the album heads towards its conclusion, the slower pace takes control as the gentler ‘Ingenue’ leads into the more uplifting ‘John Brown’, although both tracks have a strong vocal presence which possibly exceeds their melodic qualities. On the subject of melodies, they are probably at their strongest on the album’s third track ‘Lorelei’, which is the perfect follow up to what is effectively the opening number ‘Abide’. You only need to listen to a few bars of this track to get a feel that Susan is moving in an alternative direction.