Now and Again

MSA’s Heather Caston releases her songwriterly debut
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  January 30, 2006

Casdon's CD-release party is Wednesday, Feb. 1 at the Big EasyHeather Caston, as the past-president of the Maine Songwriters Association — a group that includes more than 500 of Maine’s active songwriters, largely folk and pop, and runs a series of performance showcases all over the state — has an ambassadorial role, whether she likes it or not.

It’s not as though she earned her title by songwriting competition or anything. Mostly she just volunteered for the role, which involved some fair amount of work for some meager compensation (she remains on the MSA board). But with the singer/songwriter something of an embattled stereotype these days, there is some pressure on head honcho Heather Caston to show that a singer/songwriter is more than just a poet with a guitar playing for tips in a coffee shop when she performs and records.

Thus, there’s some large interest in Caston’s debut full-length, Again, recorded with Fraser Jones and Marc Bartholomew and mastered by Bob Ludwig, himself. Right out of the box on Again, Caston gives us the full band treatment. Employing ubiquitous local bass player Andy Rice (Jason Spooner Band, Portland Conservatory, Matt Fogg and Nicole Hajj), drummer Ryan Cyr, and electric guitarist Clive Osborn, she dispels quickly any notion she’s just a coffee shop type.

“Beg” might be more appropriate in a bordello, in fact. It rocks behind a whining electric guitar and could be perfect for a runway strut. Caston plays the seductress more like voyeur than participant, but still titillates with a chorus that runs: “Do I have to beg you to please me?/ Do I have to get down on my knees and beg?/ Do I have to beg you to please me?/ Lay back and watch me beg.” Goodness, I’m blushing. I really didn’t think she was that kind of gal.

Maybe the cover of the disc should have been more indication. Caston hides her eyes, thigh-deep in a lake and drowning dead roses. Maybe she’s a heartbreaker after all.

Again’s second track is more like the Jennifer Grey-in-Dirty Dancing image I had cultivated. Though it opens like Kim Deal doing “Here Comes Your Man,” “Dance” quickly morphs into something more like a sock hop. Here, too, she employs some nicely distorted lead guitar from Haakon Kallweit (who should again be sticking his nose in a fair amount of bands now that he’s back from Nashville).

I’d like to hear the song without the hyper acoustic guitar that’s working furiously but isn’t high enough in the mix. The song could likely exist with just the fuzzed electric noodling and simple equation of bass + drums=time-keeping, the result being an emphasis on Caston’s vocals.

You’ll find that strum coming from Caston fairly often, mimicking Strangefolk’s or Acoustic Hookah’s sound. In “After All,” it sounds like too much work, especially paired with the languid lead vocals. The rounded edges of Caston’s voice clash with the spiky high end of the guitar. Also, here and on other songs where Caston is accompanied only by her own guitar, it can sound too obviously like Caston recorded the vocals and guitar tracks separately and they’re floating in separate rooms.

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