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Injecting humor into music is a tricky business. Too much, and too flippant, and you wind up approaching Weird Al territory. But, if you can balance serious subject matter with just the right amount of self-deprecation, you get something both revealing and eminently listenable. Caitlin Cannon’s latest release, The TrashCannon Album, is a big ol’ bucket of country wordplay with a lethally sharp edge.
Cannon declares her intentions right out of the gate with the album’s first song, “Going for the Bronze” – country dancehall beats with lyrics that upend conventional wisdom. As a piercing retort to the “you can do anything you set your mind to” myth, Cannon sings about the flipside – “friends with master’s degrees/They’re all working down at the Applebee’s.” No, the smartest and hardest-working don’t always win out, Cannon included – “So I busted my ass…Just to pour coffee in a Starbucks hat.” So, maybe happiness lies somewhere in the middle, or at least a place where you can carve out your own bit of realistic satisfaction – after all, a bronze medal is still a medal.
“Toolbag” is an entendre-filled piano boogie that both celebrates the guy who gets the job done – “Every well-abled man/Has a tool for the task ahead of him” – and crushes the one who doesn’t know his way around a woman – “If you want to use me/You gotta get my permission first.” Blue-collar folks, though, most often shine on TrashCannon. “Barbers and Bartenders” (two kinds of essential people we desperately miss right now) points out that “folks do a whole lot more/Than they get noticed for.” Cannon’s able to relate to any kind of hard worker settling for less – the female bartender in “Better Job” knows that her appearance behind (and below) the bar directly affects her take-home at the end of the night: “I suppose that’s prostitution, depends on what defines a whore” (a sentiment that can apply to most lines of work at one time or another). And “Mama’s a Hairdresser,” a down-beat stomper of a rock tune, relates the true-life tale of Cannon’s own mother, who works to support both her trips to see her incarcerated son and efforts to get him released, and has done so for 29 years. Cannon sings about both the smaller successes – putting enough money in his prison store account so that he can help both himself and his cellmate – and the larger reality at play: “If you’re ever gonna be in the wrong place at the wrong time/Don’t be south of that Mason-Dixon line.”
But Cannon has no hesitation at pointing her sharp pen at herself. “Drink Enough,” written about a time before she started living sober, phrases drinking as a sort of self-destructive personal challenge – “Can I drink enough to shut ‘em up/Pass out on the couch with my makeup on.” Clearly, not sustainable. That brings us to “Deliver,” one of the slower, more spare songs on the record, and the first one that Cannon wrote post-drinking. Like the most personal songs on the album, it’s a solo write, and it shows an addict’s understanding – “The corner bar/The liquor store/They aren’t on her way home anymore.” It’s something close to a break-up song – with bad habits, with co-dependence. And it’s not the least bit celebratory, but it’s real: “Maybe she’s lonely now, maybe she’s boring/But she’s not gonna hate herself in the morning.” Through this struggle, Cannon’s begun to find her own place, and it’s bound to be better than bronze.
The TrashCannon Album was produced by Denver-based singer-songwriter Megan Burtt, engineered by John McVey and Mastered by Anna Frick. Additional songwriting credits go to Burtt, Fred Kosak, Robin Schorr, Amanda Ply and Neville Elder. Musicians on the album include Burtt (acoustic guitars, background vocals), Tomeck Miernowsli, Jonah Wisneski and Jamison Hollister (acoustic and electric guitars), Kramer Kelling (upright and electric bass and background vocals), Scott Roush (drums, percussion and background vocals), and Max Hart (keys and organ).