Album Review: Caitlyn Smith – ‘High & Low’

I can’t say I didn’t see this coming, but it is somewhat frustrating to see the follow-up extension to Caitlyn Smith’s 2022 High EP come an entire year later. Granted, I could argue that Monument Records has fumbled how to market her since the very beginning – especially compared to a certain other artist of theirs – but it is exasperating to see a vocal powerhouse like her not see the greater breakthrough she deserves.

Still, as far as the actual art is concerned, I found the initial High EP to be a solid return to form from the slightly messier Supernova in 2020. It played more to Smith’s strengths in the production and writing overall, even if it was a more obvious mainstream pivot that sanded away some of the rougher edges from 2018’s Starfire. And while I am still very much onboard with the new other half of this project, there is something oddly jerky about it that makes it feel like an odd entire album. It’s not so much reflected in the approach – where the tracks from High are the mostly settled, feel-good love songs while the newer songs are anchored in more urgent heartache and distance – but more so in the sequencing and execution.

With that said, the opening title track feels even more right to lead off this project than it did the previous EP. Here, it acts more as the central thesis statement of the tangled web of emotions, not just in the up-and-down lyrical content of moving on from heartache while being unable to completely shake it, but also in the trade-off between more restrained verses and the heightened crescendo of a chorus and dynamite hook. As I said before, for a self-produced effort this is mostly excellent. It may play to more conventional, early 2010s pop-country from a melodic and compositional standpoint at times, but in always rightly pushing Smith’s voice to the front of the mix and anchoring the sound with more warm, robust instrumentation, there’s a finesse to this material that really gets to shine – and arguably even more on the newer tracks: “Lately” is a tasteful piano ballad that still manages to bring tension to its sentiment and groove in noting the distance felt between Smith and her partner; “Mississippi” layers those delicate, windswept acoustics I do adore with an excellent harmony for the hook; and “Think Of You” really anchors in its ache and angst beautifully with those strings.

Granted, if I’m looking for the reason why this feels somewhat piecemeal and jerky, it would probably would come through in the lyrics and themes. There’s still a level of mature sophistication in the overall details and framing – I already mentioned in my review how much I enjoyed that “Lately” references learning Beethoven sonatas and reading Dostoevsky to pass the time – but it doesn’t feel as well-rounded, personal, or anchored in the same storytelling detail of her previous work, perhaps all the more evident by how she’s still a songwriter for other artists and that the title track itself fit just as well when it was a Miley Cyrus song; it’s just missing the more distinctive detail overall to separate these tracks further on their own.

And that’s the odd thing when comparing the EP to this project, because taken as a bite-sized offering, the former was short, sweet, and to the point. As an extended 14-song album, though, some of these sentiments start to blend together pretty quickly – mostly in the sweet, settled, but somewhat lightweight and unexceptional family-centered tracks, like “Good At Us” and “Writing Songs & Raising Babies.”

And while she can nail an intimate piano ballad better than pretty much anyone else currently, the newer examples feel like nicer refinements over more straightforward examples from before, such as “Maybe In Another Life” or “I Don’t Like The World Without You,” even if I still enjoy them. It’s an exercise in greater stakes and urgency this time around: The devastating “I Think Of You” gets very explosive and dark in how she’s processed heartache, and “The Great Pretender” sees her fake being the life of the party as best as she can even when she very well isn’t, which adds a complex layer that’s hard to just grin and bear with its pent-up frustration. It’s still a great project, even if both halves scan better on their own than together, but it also feels disconnected in a way that doesn’t always complement its intended duality. Even still, Smith is a commanding performer who deserves far more acclaim and attention than what’s she currently receiving – this is worth the listen.

  • Favorite tracks: “High,” “Dreamin’s Free,” “Lately,” “Mississippi,” “I Think Of You,” “The Great Pretender”
  • Least favorite track: “Good At Us”

Stream the album.

3 thoughts on “Album Review: Caitlyn Smith – ‘High & Low’

  1. I liked the EP from last year, but I find that the full-length album with the additional songs helps everything come together more, in that I’m enjoying the “old” songs more so than I did last year. I particularly like High (I do like the Miley Cyrus version, but this one is better), Mississippi and Good As Us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s interesting that it kind of had the opposite effect for you, but I’m glad you were able to warm up to the old songs some! Still something of a bizarre release schedule that’s becoming more frequent and which I don’t understand, but I am glad we finally got the full album.


      1. Yes I agree! I’d rather just have the final product, but, presumably it works out better for the artist?

        Liked by 1 person

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