Review: Cat Clyde – “Good Bones”

Calling something “old-timey” can be a flat-out misnomer. The history of recorded music remains too new, relatively speaking, to know what signatures were writ large on long-long-gone eras and most of what we associate with the genre, the familiar skeletons of it all, aligns with signifiers from contemporary ephemera, particularly other music. That said, Cat Clyde is clearly a student of forms with a layer of well-earned dust on them. With the ascending Canadian singer-songwriter’s new acoustic collection, the brilliant Good Bones, she uses those musical points of reference to tremendous effect time and again on new versions of previously released material, blurring the line between new and old and lending the record both an unusual vibrancy and vitality.

The first thing you’ll notice about Clyde is her absolute gem of a voice, whose intoxicating strength, not to mention its playfulness, resembles something like Etta James by way of Jolie Holland. (A more obscure reference point would be Reno’s incredible Rachel McElhiney.) Clyde doesn’t sing notes so much as she twirls around them with her enunciations and gusto phrasings, caressing and flirting with each syllable as she measuredly pushes out the refrains. It’s enrapturing stuff. Yes, there are occasional wails and coos, and many worth writing home about, but what remains the most captivating is the way she’ll extend a single note two or three measures past its logical end with a knowing and jazz-flapper flair.

But for all of the period-adjusted details—to name but a few: the French pop guitar of “So Heavy,” the one-more-drink saloon sullenness that opens “Man I Loved Blues,” the pre-rock gallup of “Running Water”—there’s plenty that is utterly contemporary about the disc’s 12 tracks. Incredible opener “Mama Said” (we all know this one) is a wonderful and fully formed sentiment, even in stripped down form, where Clyde alternately sounds like Holiday and Joplin and has a guitar lines that actually mimic the verses of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” to great effect. “All the Black,” whose hammered-on guitar notes offer harmony to Clyde’s sultry smooth delivery, could be the foundation for a song off The Bends. The fact that Clyde pulls off these tricks on the disc unaccompanied—the whole LP is solo voice and guitar, seemingly cut live—is worth noting and, yes, emulating.

Elsewhere, the signifiers come up with an intentionally messy mélange of colors. For as jazz-inflected and nuanced as the vaguely mid-century Eurocentric balladry of the riveting “So Cold” is, there’s also a kind of stark feminist modernism to it, and not just in the way Clyde boldly spits out, “So cold/ Whoever told you/ You could act like that?”. “Sheets of Green” starts with thoroughly contemporary palm muting before descending into a catchy hook that almost echoes Kurt Cobain. Just a few songs later, listeners are treated to the Cline-isms (“Rock & Stone”); the record ends with a ballad in the timbre of Johnny Cash, the playful “Toaster.” Pinning the disc to one genre, never mind one period, is absolutely a fool’s errand.

Those seeking sonic delights don’t need to wander long. There are vocal turns on the record—the scatting that closes the too-short shuffle “Running Water” is so good, it’s unreal—that are some of the finest you may hear on a record for quite a while. There’s a show-stopping wail on “All the Black” that will send shivers up your spine. And the closing minute of “So Heavy,” where Clyde unfurls an uncharacteristically rapid-fire delivery over carefully measured guitars, is the definition of enthralling. Yep, Clyde’s got the listener’s number from the get-go and doesn’t let go of their ear or their shirt collar ‘til the disc’s done spinning. You’ll find yourself drooling over Good Bones’ supple and fleshy nuances, the ways it expands upon previous iterations. It’s a body of work worth diving into and devouring. – Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, June 15, 2020


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.