Kaitlin Butts — What Else Can She Do
Making a go of it in music takes an almost incomprehensible amount of determination. Oklahoma singer-songwriter Kaitlin Butts has more than her share, to the point that she’s been able to imbue her characters with a stubborn resolve to keep pushing, despite odds seemingly never in their favor. On her latest album, What Else Can She Do, Butts combines these tough-luck fighters, her admirably big voice, and a bit of outside-the-box musicianship to give us one of the best country records of the year.
The album’s first track, “it won’t always be this way,” mixes guitar riffs (from Joshua Grange) alternating between swirling and slicing while telling the story of the first fighter Butts ever knew – her mother. Try as she might, Mom couldn’t ever escape the mire she’d found herself in – “Feels like I’m drowning in a dream/With a breath of air just out of my reach.” The title, and message, of the tune is a stab at optimism, even if the narrator doesn’t quite believe it herself. The young woman in “bored if i don’t” is fighting a different kind of battle – navigating life and unexpected unhappiness in a too-early marriage. The pedal-steel tinged story has the singer alternating between battling and justifying her urges – “Can I find out what my heart needs/Without his getting hurt.” Important to Butts’ story is that the husband ain’t a bad guy – “it’s wrong telling lies to a man/Who’s honest as the day is long” – which turns what could otherwise be a melodrama into a soul-crushing decision.
Grim determination is personified in the title cut, a coolly loping tune with killer lines like “Her small town pretty didn’t play in the city too well” and enhanced by more excellent steel work (Justin Schiper’s playing stands out across the record). “jackson” is a name-checking take-off on the Johnny & June classic which finds a modern-day couple not even lasting long enough to fall apart amidst the decadence of Jackson town. “She’s Using” is a plea for empathy for addicts, choosing not to blame the user but “whatever makes her remember/To take whatever makes her forget.” Here, the grit pays off, as th recovering addict finds a better way to survive.
Resilience and determination, though, can be a burden, and “blood,” penned with Angaleena Presley (Pistol Annies), finds that family ties can become tangled knots. The rich country ballad, featuring Butts’ most soaring vocals on the record, laments the “God awful things swept under the rug/For blood.” It’s a truth rarely acknowledged in country music – sometimes, even when it comes to family, it’s healthier to give up rather than give in.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “in the pines” – Butts’ take on the traditional tune features a cosmic swirl of guitar and steel, topped off with a vocal torrent that will remind you of Kurt Cobain’s “Unplugged” howl.
What Else Can She Do was produced and mixed by Oran Thornton and mastered by John Baldwin. All original songs were written by Kaitlin Butts (“blood” co-written with Angaleena Presley). Additional musicians on the album include Thornton (acoustic guitar), Lex Price (bass), Fred Eltringham (drums), Joshua Grange (electric guitar), Justin Schiper (pedal steel) and Cleto Cordero (harmony vocals).
Go here to order What Else Can She Do (out April 15): https://kaitlinbutts.myshopify.com/
Check out tour dates here: https://www.kaitlinbutts.com/tour