The title of Kaitlin Butts‘ previous album is Same Hell, Different Devil. That pretty much sums up the Nashville-based songwriter’s worldview. She comes out of a red dirt Oklahoma background, and she’s been around. Her new vinyl record What Else Can She Do is streaming at Spotify. She’s a fiery, expressive singer, a vivid storyteller and has a hard country band behind her who can rock out just as hard if the song calls for it.
Butts doesn’t wait fifteen seconds before she revisits the Devil in the album’s first track, It Won’t Always Be This Way. “Waiting for the first turn in my gut,” is how she puts it in this big, angst-fueled ballad, soaring over Joshua Grange’s flaring guitar leads and Justin Schiper’s pedal steel. It’s a great song: Tift Merritt got her start singing stuff like this.
Bored If I Don’t – as in, damned if I do, etc. – is a twangy, guilt-racked cheating song, propelled by bassist Lex Price and drummer Fred Eltringham’s swinging beat. Butts traces an all-too-familiar blue-collar story of slow decline in the album’s wistfully waltzing title track: “Her smalltown pretty didn’t play in the city too well/And the life that she thought would be heaven now feels more like hell.”
Jackson, a vindictive, blue-flame 6/8 ballad with a tasty steel solo, is a sort of sequel to the Johnny Cash/June Carter classic. “Mama says it’s like losing a child without the flowers or the casserole,” Butts explains in She’s Using, a searing chronicle of the opiod pandemic. It’s the best song on the record.
A month ago, this blog described the next tune, Blood as “a very subtle protest song disguised as a fierce kiss-off ballad” – listen closely and you will be rewarded. Butts winds up the record with an impassioned Nashville gothic cover of In the Pines that’s closer to Neko Case than that overrated Seattle band from way back when. It’s early in the year, but this is one of the small handful of best records of 2022 so far.