As a founding member of the band Freakwater, Louisville–based Catherine Irwin helped issue alt-country into America’s lexicon of music. Freakwater’s first LP debuted in 1989, a year before Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression, which many consider the catalyst of alt-country. Irwin’s second solo effort, Little Heater, set to be released on September 18, proves Catherine’s own brand is something to be considered. Firmly rooted in the sounds of bluegrass and old country, Little Heater will leave you aching for a broken heart so you too can sing wrenching songs about love and loss.
At times delicate, at times merciless, and with twang to spare, Catherine’s vocals shine on the album, second only to her writing. (Within the musical community Irwin’s songwriting ability has long been recognized—both Kelly Hogan and Neko Case have covered her songs.) Take as evidence “Mockingbird,” the first track on Little Heater. Irwin croons about inescapable bad habits, with Bonnie “Prince” Billy (aka Will Oldham, an indie fave) singing harmony. The ninteenth century murder ballad, “Banks of the Ohio” is also a stand-out. The simple tune serves as a skeleton which Catherine’s voice fleshes out, as we are once again treated to lush melodies.
As with her first solo album, alongside Irwin’s originals, Little Heater features multiple covers, and whether she’s playing an old-time cover or one of her own, after twenty-plus years of putting out music, Catherine Irwin’s songs manage to invoke the past while still sounding fresh.