Friday, June 24, 2005


Traditional country music is marriage music, and there's no better way to dissect a troubled marriage than to have a female country singer and a male country singer trade lines in a duet. Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell are not married to each other, but they understand the institution's vicissitudes so well that they have co-written nine terrific songs for their first duo album, "Begonias," and provide spirited, back-and-forth vocals. Cary and Cockrell come out of North Carolina's alt-country scene, but they have made as good a traditional country album as we're likely to hear this year, a worthy successor to the duets of Johnny Cash and June Carter, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, and Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton.

The underlying problem of most marriages is identified on the very first song, "Two Different Things," when Cockrell rises into a faltering high tenor and confesses, "What I want and what I have are two different things; what you were is not what you've become." Then Cary flips the situation upside down with her feisty alto, "The more I change the things I do, the less you let me in; what you want and what I am are two different things." There's a heartbreaking pause between the "am" and the "are," as if both singers are just realizing how much has changed and how much has been lost.

Much of the album investigates that gap between what a spouse wants and what they have. Should one settle for "Something Less Than Something More"? Should one give the other person "Whatever You Want"? Or should one just invite one's partner to "Please Break My Heart" and end it for good? Cary and Cockrell overcome the project's low-budget production to create some marriage music that might be country's future as well as its past.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Friday at Iota and Saturday at the Royal in Baltimore.

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