We’re sitting in a field of green, the wind gently shaking the grass beneath our hands and feet on this warm summer day. A humble guitar strums gentle, folky chords that fill up the air around us. The chords seem to compliment the breeze, easily drifting through the atmosphere and carrying all of our cares and worries away with them. There’s a dash of 12 bar blues in their sway, and just like our closest friends in life, it isn’t going away for nothing – and I mean nothing. Instead, it’s getting stronger, breaking way to a spicy lead guitar that smokes up the field like a wild bonfire on the beach. A melodic poem, almost a sonnet, is sung by the lead singer, a woman after Joni Mitchell’s own heart.
No, this isn’t a scene out of a postmodern watercolor painting. This is just a taste of “Good Friends Like You,” from the new album Free Wheelin’by Cathy Hutch. The splendorous landscape that it dwells in. I wasn’t familiar with her work before I listened to Free Wheelin’, but not only was I taken aback by the level of talent I heard in Hutch and her accompanying band, I was surprised that she had escaped my attention in the years that I’ve been following and covering singer/songwriters.
Much like her heroes Melissa Etheridge and Tanya Tucker, Cathy Hutch isn’t limited by country music’s acoustic, simplistic song structures. Like a fierce wind that propels a tornado, she unleashes an aggressive release of emotion that is only matched by the mammoth size of her bold, electrified blues riffing. To call her a country singer wouldn’t be very fair, and to call her a traditional rock n’ roller would seem a little unfitting as well.
Her sound is deeply steeped in country’s homespun lyrics that are more akin to storytelling than poetic rhyming, but her style is unarguably of the punk rock aesthetic. She’s a rebel, a free spirit, a freewheeling troubadour that can express as much love as she can regret. There’s a self-awareness that demonstrates incredible humility in her music, especially in songs like “Attitude of Gratitude” and “To Say Goodbye.” In “To Say Goodbye,” I almost felt like the guitar was grieving the loss of a lover as much as Hutch was through her lyrics. She’s gripping and enthralling in her prose, and to the point where I could easily see her writing a bestselling book of poetry if she felt inspired to do so.
Cathy Hutch gives us so many flavors and accents to appreciate on Free Wheelin’ that it leaves listeners eager to hear more from the critically acclaimed singer/songwriter, and personally I can’t wait to see how she chooses to follow up this album. There are so many different directions she could choose to go, whether it’s expanding on the band-oriented format we’re hearing now, or perhaps pursuing a more vocal-driven solo sound that centers more on her dynamic range and writing capabilities. Will she tour in support of big names in the country community, or will she take the indie route of playing smaller, more intimate gigs as she has in the past? Whatever she decides, her following is bound to keep growing as she continues to refine her craft.
-review by James McFadden