No one sings about the simple joys of love and family with the grace and skill of Catie Curtis. After twelve years and nine studio albums, Curtis's penchant for focusing on the personal and positive has paid off in big ways on the Nashville-produced Sweet Life.
Defying the recent trend in acoustic music to produce a spare, close to the bones, up close and personal sound, Curtis turned to producer Garry West and a crew of Music City session musicians to create a big, complex, musically rich recording.
The CD opens with the title tune, Sweet Life, which immediately sweeps you up in its positive, upbeat toe-tapping vibe. You cannot help but smile when you hear Curtis describe the circuitous route of her life, leading from east to west and back again. All this to eventually land in this "sweet life beside you/ There's music in the kitchen/ Laughter down the hall/ Didn't know what I was missing/ But I almost missed it all." The music, the vocals and the sentiments expressed here are all so infectious, you want to jump right into this picture of simple yet deeply rewarding domestic bliss.
Are You Ready to Fly brings back memories of carefree summers of fun—when you were a kid and school was out until September. Curtis captures what it felt like to have a seemingly endless supply of long summer days ahead. There are visions here of jumping off a railroad bridge into the nearby creek, riding double on bicycles and exploring crooked roads to who knows where. Curtis leads on vocals and acoustic guitar, accompanied by Phil Madeira on organ, Erick Jaskowiak on percussion and Ingrid Graudins on backing vocals, to name a few of the superb musicians here.
Curtis shines on the soft and sexy ballad For Now. Caressing the lyrics in her inimitable style—stretching up into a falsetto which is achingly beautiful—she is once again accompanied by some of Nashville's finest, particularly Mark T. Jordan on organ and Phil Madeira, this time on piano.
There is one very nice surprise on this CD, and it is a cover of Death Cab for Cutie's 1990's hit Soul Meets Body. It takes Curtis into alternative rock territory, moving her for a moment from her usual feet-on-the-ground celebration of life and love to a more abstract world of mind and spirit. The beauty of it all is that it works. And playing a large part in the success of this song is George Marinelli on electric guitar, Alison Prestwood on bass and Shannon Forrest on drums.
Curtis has always been able to address the social issues that are important to her in a personal way, enabling all of us as listeners to identify with her. Fools is one of these songs. It was inspired by the loss of a family friend in a senseless crime. Instead of focusing on the horror and pain that tragedy brings, Curtis tells us "take a breath and let it go/ that's everything you need to know."
But it is The Princess and the Mermaid that sums up what Catie Curtis is all about. In beautifully rendered music and lyrics Curtis paints a picture of her life with her family—two kids in the backseat looking up at the moon and then falling asleep—and the partner she loves. The chorus says it all:
Whatever it takes, whatever we need
There are very few artists in the music business who are universally loved for both their unique talents and their personal charm and goodness. Everything, in fact, that is good and even great about Catie Curtis—the person and her music—is present in "Sweet Life" in abundance. This recording is the defining moment in her career, when it all comes together. Sweet Life may be the story of Curtis's life, but it is the story of all of our lives as well. I cannot imagine anyone but Catie Curtis pulling together a master work of domestic life as eloquently, as brilliantly, and as richly layered as this one. Sweet Life goes to the top of my list as best folk/acoustic recording of the year.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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