Interview: Caitlin Canty brings gorgeous sparse Americana to Freight & Salvage


The Freight & Salvage in downtown Berkeley is known for its excellent curation of folk, Americana and traditional music. You could just swing by on a Tuesday and be almost guaranteed an excellent show if these genres are your jam. If you were going to do that this week, however, we recommend you swing by on Friday night May 29th instead and catch Caitlin Canty open for Eilen Jewell.

Canty is a Vermont native living in Nashville who brings an unfettered voice and songwriting style that is at once reminiscent of Nicki Bluhm, and distinct from her. Where Bluhm veers towards the rock side of country, folk and blues, Canty steers closer to the folk side of blues and country. Where Bluhm exudes a lightness of heart even in the saddest song, Canty seems to bring a haunting sadness to every note she sings. While combining American genres earns them both the Americana tag, Canty’s Americana seems best suited to the intimate 500-seat Freight & Salvage listening room, which boasts some of the Bay’s best sound by the way.

The arrangements on her recent LP Reckless Skyline keep instrumentation sparse even on the fuller-sounding songs like “(My Baby) Don’t Care” and “True to You.” And it’s this spareness that appeals. On “Southern Man,” Canty builds a compelling and complete vision of a working class American love: “Working man with calloused hands / Gentler than a gentle man / Hold me tight / The world is put right / You’re a good man to stand by / Man of mine.”  With no more than 2-3 chords, a subtle drone and the well-placed use of harmonies the song forges an epic emotional foundation that brings to mind the very work that might give one those calloused hands.

This week, I had the chance to ask her a few questions via email:

SFCritic: Every songwriter has their lineage – who they listened to, who they studied, and who influenced them along the way. Which artists are in yours?

Caitlin Canty: I was steeped in Classic Rock radio in Vermont as a kid or painting houses with my dad, and the artists from those days that stick with me still are Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, CCR, Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt. In college, I got into Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and The Waifs around the time I was learning to play guitar and write songs. Then the musicians and songwriters I met and played with really turned the dial in my music – Jeffrey Foucault, Peter Bradley Adams, Rose Cousins, Chris Smither, Session Americana, Pieta Brown.

SFC: Many of the songs on “Reckless Skyline” sound like stories. Are they your stories? If not, whose? Where do you look for inspiration?

CC: Don’t have to look far for inspiration – there’s so much to hear and say and sing. It’s crafting the spark into something I want to sing or say every night for the next few years that’s the tough part. The spark comes in part from observing nature and the lives around me. Usually when a theme or idea repeatedly cuts through my life and the lives of others I’m close to, it refuses to leave me alone until I put it in a song.

SFC: What is the last/most recent song you listened to on your (insert listening device of choice here)?

CC: A voice memo on my phone from a rehearsal before I left Nashville for tour is the honest answer. A new song I showed a friend – he knocked it out of the park with his bottleneck slide electric guitar. According to my phone, I recently streamed Etta James and Doc Watson in my rental car driving through California.

SFC: What is your favorite part of touring to the Bay Area?

CC: The backyard fruit trees! Everyone’s got them here, and so many different kinds. Not just crabapple trees out here. I could get used to this.

Check out Canty’s cover of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” below, and then get your tickets for Friday night by going here. The show is the beginning of a full tour that will take her to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado later this summer.

Photo by Jay Sansone