Catherine Irwin

Record Review

Phases and Stages

Catherine Irwin

Cut Yourself a Switch (Thrill Jockey) Sackcloth and ashes are fine for ascetic prophets and shamed celebrities, but they sure make for mighty bleak listening. Granted, no one should expect Owen Bradley-style production from a Thrill Jockey album, but all the same, its monochromatic texture and ponderous pace make Cut Yourself a Switch about as pulse-quickening as the morning farm report. It also doesn't help any that Irwin, half of the songwriting axis for acoustic Louisville pirates Freakwater, has one of those prematurely aged voices that sounds like she's at death's door even when she's happy; paradoxically, the most upbeat song on the album is the death-centered "Will You Miss Me." A few songs later, Irwin's searching for "a lovely place to drown," but listeners may have already beaten her to it, especially after hearing "Dirty Little Snowman," the sort of please-shoot-me-now Christmas carol suicide hot line operators just adore. Increasing the tempo to something beyond a crawl might help and works well on the cover of Johnny Paycheck's "The Only Hell My Momma Ever Raised." There's certainly nothing wrong with Irwin's resonant guitar-picking or her throaty, lived-in twang, but it's nearly impossible to get past the maudlin tone of lyrics like "tears from my blank eyes would paint the river red." Cut Yourself a Switch might make a fine Valentine's Day gift for the No Depression-subscribing, Prozac-popping sourpuss in your family, but for everyone else its 50 minutes will seem more like 500. (Catherine Irwin opens for Neko Case at the Mercury, Friday, Feb. 14.)


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