Americana Burns Bright on Caitlin Rose’s CAZIMI
“Cazimi” is a term derived from Arabic literally meaning “in the heart of the sun.” In other words, when a planet is in cazimi, it’s so close to the sun that it’s in the “heart” of it. Total combustion might be just ahead, but the rays are blinding.
Country singer Caitlin Rose’s take on the astrological phenomenon takes shape on her third album CAZIMI, which frequently finds the singer/songwriter, or one of her many characters, facing what happens just before they’re engulfed in flames. Rose herself, who found modest music stardom in her early 20s around the release of her buzzy full-length debut, Own Side Now, knows a thing or two about the space between exaltation and burnout. After the release of her 2013 second album The Stand-In, Rose took seven years off from music, a period that was defined by its own sets of fits and starts, ups and downs. When she was ready to return to music in early 2020, Rose decided to reinvent the idea of cazimi to better fit her motives for making a fresh album. Rather than be swarmed by flames, she found power in the light.
Of course, Rose never could’ve predicted what was waiting for her in March 2020 when she and collaborator and producer Jordan Lehning were getting ready to make CAZIMI. Their plans were thwarted by the pandemic and the destructive tornado that swept through Nashville. But maybe the songs needed that extra time to steep, because the eventual album is brewed to Americana perfection.
Single “Modern Dancing” is full of little bites of wisdom, but thanks to the light and bright melody, it never strays into world-weariness. “I’ve had enough of these cosmic porces,” Rose sings. “You know in the end that we only end up on our own.” Rose’s narrator may fear another “false start,” but in the end she admits to “a romance with ruin” and keeps grooving.
Rose teams up with another Americana force in Courtney Marie Andrews (who also released her own lovely new album, Loose Future, last month) on fellow single “Getting It Right,” and they sound like they were born to sing together. They wrote the song together and harmonize throughout, fiercely examining self-doubt, particularly around vulnerability, in lines like, “Talk too much or not enough / Everything tender always comes out rough.”
Rose revisits burnout on the equally catchy breakup anthem “How Far Away,” where she cleverly sings, “I hitched a ride out on a shooting star / but I burned out baby in the diner car / Now I sit around and wonder where you are.” Lead single “Black Obsidian,” which is buoyed by both the resounding church bells and slick slide guitar that pop up throughout the record, also faces the threat of a dissolving relationship. “Why in the hell do we keep looking back / With the devil always running after us?” Rose asks.
As on The Stand-In, CAZIMI is full of characters. The searing “Nobody’s Sweetheart” centers on an “under-appreciated and uninspired” big-talker, while the on-theme “Gemini Moon” finds lovers just playing “another game.” The fiery “Lil Vesta,” meanwhile, seemingly ties all the album’s situationships and breakdowns together: “You can’t feel the strange and silent pull / Nobody’s sweetheart and nobody’s fool,” Rose sings, referencing the aforementioned track, and sealing the deal with the line, “Star-crossed and searching for that missing fire.” The more somber “Blameless,” too, shouts out “nobody’s fool,” but leans into the often-welcome darkness on the other side of the extinguished fire: “You always come running each time you discover I’m as cold as you,” Rose sings.
While the characters on CAZIMI aren’t always at peace, it sounds like Rose is. Even as she experiments with new sounds, textures and situations, the country-rock queen remains a reliable source of genuine stories. Who knows when or if we’ll get another Caitlin Rose album, but it’s clear that no matter what direction her career takes, Rose will stick to her guns—even if that means racing confidently toward the sun.
Ellen Johnson is a former Paste music editor and forever pop culture enthusiast. Presently, she’s a copy editor, freelance writer and aspiring marathoner. You can find her tweeting about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson and re-watching Little Women on Letterboxd.
Revisit Rose’s 2021 Paste session below.