Since I was born in 1957, my life corresponds approximately to the life-span of rock and roll. In that 55-plus years, there have been times when rock has seemed to be tired and played out. But there’s always some snotty group of kids who come along and beat it back into shape. Caterwaulla is one of the latest groups to have a go.
Their self-titled debut isn’t a revolutionary addition to the rock canon, but there are some fresh elements to Caterwaulla’s music, beginning with the strong voice of lead singer Lauren Murphie. Murphie’s singing hints at her percursors—Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Grace Slick—but the great thing about the voice as an instrument is that everyone’s is unique. Murphie’s voice has the kind of power and timbre that will cut through the roar of any band, but she uses dynamics skillfully to keep the listener from feeling like they’re being yelled at.
Terry Yin’s electric violin adds distinctive texture to Caterwaulla, taking the parts usually taken by lead guitar and freeing Gabe Starbeck to focus on rhythm guitar most of the time, which is the heart and soul of the rock sound. Gabe takes a few short solos along the way, but this isn’t a band that leans on jamming to make their point.
The song “Cat Lady” stands out to me as a roaring show stopper. It’s a classic F-you breakup song with showcase moments for each band member, but it’s solidly grounded in pentatonic blues riffing and rave-up cymbal crash drumming. It reminds me of the story about Chuck Berry insisting Jerry Lee Lewis open for him, and Jerry Lee gives a literally scorching performance, setting his piano on fire. Caterwaulla is a hard act to follow, even without actual pyrotechnics.
Kent Williams bought the first copy of Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols to arrive in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.