Catherine Irwin at the Hideout | Concert preview
Freakwater songwriter summons alt-country nostalgia.
Among the first insurgents in the alt-country uprising, Catherine Irwin and Janet Bean rallied around traditional country sounds with punk attitude as Freakwater long before No Depression hit the indie bookshops. Irwin, the group’s principal songwriter, always seemed more at home in a country vernacular, one that Nashville hitmakers might barely recognize in this day and age. She’s busy as heck, but you wouldn’t know it from her scarce output over the last decade. That’s because Irwin continually edits and rewrites her tunes, which makes for long lapses between releases.
The latest product of that unhurried writing process is Little Heater, an acoustic record showcasing Irwin’s lonesome and self-effacing Americana. Recorded in Woodstock, New York, the songs have the laid-back vibe of an indie hootenanny with delicate performances from guests like Will Oldham and Tara O’Neil, who recorded the album. It’s downbeat, but a healthy dose of self-deprecation lightens the mood, as does O’Neil’s subtle production—heartfelt harmonies and lush accents like pedal steel keep it far from bummer territory.
Freakwater recently announced a return to the road in 2013, making this intimate set something of a warm-up. Irwin admittedly dislikes playing solo, so she’s tapped a fiddle player and backup singer to join her. We’re assuming the trio format will buck her up a bit. For those with a hankering for old-timey Appalachia or ’90s Wicker Park, it’ll buck them up, too.