Clusterpluck Album Reviews: Miko Marks, Caitlin Rose, and Drive-By Truckers

So, aside from Adeem the Artist’s new album dropping this week, this will likely be our final album review roundup of 2022. My backlog was surprisingly thin to begin with, and in the spirit of covering solely what I want rather than what I think I should, we have three albums on today’s docket. Onward!

Miko Marks - Feel Like Going Home

Miko Marks and the Resurrectors, Feel Like Going Home

Miko Marks has quietly gone from being country music’s “one that got away” in the mid-2000s to one of its greatest modern surprise comeback stories, carving out a long overdue niche for herself starting with last year’s Our Country (which I should have covered and regret not doing so) and most recently with Feel Like Going Home. And indeed, when you’ve placed that much distance between your original career starting point and where you are now, it’s no surprise that this album is pretty true to its title, a warm melting plot and smattering of country, southern-rock, and gospel with a lot of old-school flourishes in the tonal choices and the grooves – especially through the liquid sheen of “Lay Your Burden Down” that makes for a really beautiful standout moment.

Honestly, it’s so straightforward in what it’s going for that finding the right words for it has been a tricky endeavor for me, for better and worse. On one hand, there’s a natural intensity and swell to this album’s grander scope of a spiritual rejuvenation, where “coming home” is as much about returning to a physical place of comfort as it is a personal one – coming to terms with old ghosts and finding the peace to move forward in spite (or because) of them. And outside of a vague, underwritten protest song in “Trouble,” this album maintains a consistent focus with a genuinely calming tone.

I think my overall issues keeping me from loving this further, however, are twofold: The writing can feel a bit broadly sketched and devoid of the personal drama that could grant this album some greater weight or stakes to it, always feeling a bit too in control of its tempered ease and peace of mind from the opening track and also feeling a bit one-note throughout because of it, too. And while I do like the southern-rock heft and grime added to tracks like “River” and “The Other Side” to lend greater pacing to this album’s momentum and often slower pace, nearly every track here ends with some jam band-esque solo that tends to overstay its welcome. And even then, this is a project that still sounds a bit too reserved and tasteful even despite that added weight. Still, Marks is a tremendous natural talent, and this is as good of a starting point with her work as any.

  • Favorite tracks: “Feel Like Going Home,” “River,” “Peace of Mind,” “Lay Your Burden Down”
  • Least favorite track: “Trouble”

Buy or stream the album.

Caitlin Rose - CAZIMI

Caitlin Rose, CAZIMI

This may have just been my most anticipated album for the final quarter of the year, because Caitlin Rose’s most recent project before this, The Stand-In, was released all the way back in 2013, and was one of my favorites of that entire decade (unfortunately, I found it too late to say so). Describing her work has always been a tricky endeavor, though, a melting pot of country and vintage pop and soul with enough of an old-school rattle and warmth in the delivery and melodic compositions without necessarily feeling overtly retro or established solely through pastiche.

There’s just sort of a timeless grace to albums like Own Side Now and The Stand-In, and now that CAZIMI is finally here to join those ranks … well, again, “tricky” is the most appropriate word here, because I can’t say this feels much different from what one might expect a follow-up album of hers to sound like, even after so long. But it’s not clicking with me nearly as much as I’d prefer. The heavier reliance on reverb in the overall production – particularly the vocals, which feels distracting – feels like the wrong fit in saturating her admittedly still strong-as-ever melodies and hooks. It’s murkier overall, and that feels intentional when digging into some of the starry-eyed, celestial motifs of tracks like “Black Obsidian” and “Gemini Moon,” but I did miss the more immediate potency of her previous work that had a more organic and dynamic punch to it to stand out better. This is a bit hazier and meant to flow together more cohesively, but it often feels like it’s drowning a bit too much in its atmosphere.

Thankfully, I’m still really sold on the writing, which, yes, is mostly just built around either finding love or losing it without much of an overall connective tissue. But it’s also coated through the same overshared details that have always made Rose a potent writer. Heck, she says right away on opener “Carried Away” that she loves too fast and too hard and doesn’t know how to control her nervousness in the moment, but she wants to leap in regardless and find something more anyway. Of course, that also means there’ll be time when she’s on her own – it’s why I like the slyly humorous conceit of “Nobody’s Sweetheart,” but it’s the moments of urgency with greater stakes behind them that click with me even more. Like, for instance, the more developed, almost new-wave groove of “How Far Away” once again finding her caught in the throes of something more, or the mature but still cutting falling out of “Blameless” right afterward. It’s tough, because with such a yin-and-yang album like this from a thematic standpoint, I get why this feels mostly adrift overall. But it’s also what’s keeping me from calling this among my favorite work of hers, even if it’s great to have her back.

  • Favorite tracks: “Nobody’s Sweetheart,” “How Far Away,” “Blameless,” “Carried Away,” “Holdin'”
  • Least favorite track: “Getting it Right” (w/ Courtney Marie Andrews)

Buy or stream the album.

Drive by truckers welcome to club xiii

Drive-By Truckers, Welcome 2 Club XIII

It’s taken me longer than expected to discuss this long-running southern-rock band at length, mostly because finding the proper entry point in recent memory has been tricky. Their early albums are near-classics (my personal favorite being the dark and heavy Decoration Day over the sprawling fan-favorite Southern Rock Opera), but their last trio of projects delved into political themes and ideas with the same sort of bloated, misshapen inconsistency that’s marked their work since at least the late 2000s. And with latest album Welcome 2 Club XIII ... well, it’s certainly not the best entry point into this band’s discography, but that’s because it’s an inward-looking album reflecting on the band’s career and the members’ lives in general. And yeah, it’s still mostly uneven and bolstered more by some incredible standouts and anchoring points above all else. But by bringing the focus back down to the band’s basics through that inward focus, they may made one of their better albums in a very long time.

And really? It’s worth it all for opener “The Driver” alone, which has been one of my favorite songs of the year since I first heard it and maybe my favorite of theirs since “A Ghost to Most.” It’s a lumbering behemoth of a track that really sets the stage for the album’s mood and themes in general; a mind-warping experience built upon excellently sinister, chunky riffs, Schaefer Llana’s beautifully haunting backing vocals, and lyrics … basically telling of the band’s journey from the beginning to now, just, you know, framed through still imagery and memories meant to evoke some pretty unsettling audience responses. But it also goes beyond the band itself to speak to our own perceptions of our lives, and how we’re all the stars of our little shows and that we’d like our stories to be much grander and more epic than they are in reality … even if we don’t necessarily want to pay the price to make them that way.

Yeah, therein lies the duality of this album, a manifesto from a band that by their own subtle admittance here should have flamed out long ago from personal self-destruction – and if they did, would have been immortalized the way we do to so many icons that never got the chance to just … fade away, which makes the one-two punch of “Every Single Storied Flameout” and “Billy Ringo in the Dark” hit really effectively – but have lived to tell the tale and are better for it, even if there’s a slightly twisted fondness still to be found through those wilder days. It’s what makes the swinging, out-of-place title track a really unexpected anchoring point, as fun as it is unsavory. Maybe “bittersweet” is the better word, given that “We Will Never Wake You Up In the Morning” is about saying goodbye to a friend whose alcoholism has claimed them for good, and that “Wilder Days” is framed as something of a somber goodbye to that past.

And you know, whatever that says moving forward, it’s a fitting full-circle type of album either way. Not perfect and even just shy of great for me: The Margo Price assist on “Forged in Hell and Heaven Sent” feels awkward harmony-wise on a track that makes this long-awaited hookup between old friends feel somewhat muted anyway, and the album tends to meander wildly in its compositional muscle, probably because it’s meant to be something of a muted, hazy trip through time. And it really is an album, again, built more around highlights like “The Driver,” the title track, and “Every Single Storied Flameout.” But it’s also a trip worth taking for those familiar with the band’s history, and still their most solid album in some time.

  • Favorite tracks: “The Driver,” “Welcome 2 Club XIII,” “Every Single Storied Flameout,” “Wilder Days”
  • Least favorite track: “Forged in Hell and Heaven Sent”

Buy or stream the album.

One thought on “Clusterpluck Album Reviews: Miko Marks, Caitlin Rose, and Drive-By Truckers

  1. Miko Marks is one of my favourite “new-to-me” discoveries of this year and I really enjoyed this album. I love the blend of country/soul/gospel sounds.

    Liked by 1 person

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