What happened to the good ones?
But the musician that made the biggest impression on me that night wasn't even scheduled to play. She was on tour with Each Other's Mothers, just doing the roadie thing, but while Each Other's Mothers were setting up, she plugged in one of their guitars and played about half a dozen songs of her own. I wasn't even in the room when she started; I was outside on the sidewalk with some friends, having no idea that anyone was going to be playing anytime soon. Within half a song, though, I'd abandoned my conversation, gone inside, and pushed my way to the front of the room. Her first song had caught my attention thoroughly, and I didn't want to miss any more of her set because I was standing around talking. It wasn't until she finished playing that I found out her name: Cara Beth Satalino. She too had CDs for sale, and when I talked to her after her set, she told me that the one I should pick up if I'd liked the songs she played was her new EP, wryly titled "The Good Ones". I took her advice, and was so impressed with it, even above and beyond how impressed I'd been with her live performance, that I hunted her down on myspace and added her song "Shimmering Thing" as my profile music. It stayed there for at least a year.
A year and a half later, I still listen to that CD on a frequent basis. "Shimmering Thing" started out as my favorite song on it, but the longer I've listened to it, the more I've grown to love each of the other songs in turn, to the point where now I probably couldn't pick a favorite. Lately, it's been "Good Ones", which may or may not be a title track depending on how you look at it, that sticks in my brain the most. "Good Ones" is the closest any song here gets to a full-band arrangement. I can hear at least two electric guitar tracks on it, as well as a drum kit, an electric piano, and multiple tracks of background vocals. I'm not sure who is playing the drums, but everything else is undoubtedly Cara, especially those background vocals. "Good Ones" doesn't have that much of a standard verse/chorus/verse structure; there's a chorus, but the rest of the song is best defined merely as not-chorus rather than as verses and bridges and etc. All of the non-chorus parts are quite different from each other, even though they all seem to be based around similar chord progressions (if not the exact same one). It's Cara's vocal arrangement that creates the distinction between these parts. She sings each non-chorus part in a completely different way, placing emphasis on different parts of the riff and using lines of different lengths each time. It keeps the song from falling into the trap that many singer-songwriters can't seem to avoid, of playing music that isn't all that interesting on its own, and really only exists as a bed on which to lay the words.
Honestly, though, she could do that sort of thing with her music if she wanted to, because the words are really interesting all by themselves. I can't tell all that well what any of the songs here are about, but all of them contain lines that stand out, and stick in your head. "Good Ones" is based around a chorus that goes, in part, "What happened to the good ones? They get too bored to do anything fun." This doesn't seem to have much to do with some of the other good lines in the song, such as the opening verse, "If I wanted to, I would go out west searching for water. I'd build a fire and hold it to my chest. There is no other." Again, I have no idea what that means, or what it has to do with the chorus, but who cares? The imagery in those lines is indelible. That "I would go out west searching for water" bit gets stuck in my head all the time. It's interesting, and maybe part of that is because I don't know what it means.
Towards the end of the song, there's a moment when an electric piano line fades in, seeming to emerge from Cara Beth's reverberating lead guitar riffs. As it rises higher in the mix, Cara Beth harmonizes with it, singing "The heart beats harder, it beats harder and harder." There's something about this moment that has a powerful effect on me. I can't really explain what it is I'm hearing in it--there aren't any of the usual musical cues I respond to, and again, I'm not sure what the words even mean, but something about the way everything adds together at this moment just does me right in. It's incredible.
The other songs on the EP are just as good, in their own way. "Gift Horse" starts the record off, and this is the only song here that seems to be nothing more than Cara Beth and a guitar. At one point I hear a tambourine shaking, but it's so low in the mix that I can't even tell if it's present on the rest of the song or not. Cara's guitar on "Gift Horse" is drenched with reverb, and the lack of backing instruments allows it to echo all over the track. Over this, she sings some more inscrutable yet awesome lyrics, imploring over and over on the song's chorus, "Don't look him in the mouth."
"Shimmering Thing" has a bit of a different sound than the rest of the record, and the liner notes explain this by mentioning that it was recorded at a different session. On this track, Cara Beth is playing an acoustic guitar instead of the electric she uses on the rest of the record, and rather than filling the room with echoing reverb, her acoustic guitar sounds tiny and muted, as if she's playing it inside of a box. This causes her vocals to stand out in the mix, which is made even more true by their double tracking throughout the song. Sometimes both tracks are singing the same words and the same notes, but at other points, one track or the other will start to harmonize, or even devolve into wordless crooning. Behind it all, there's some percussion, which may or may not be played on an actual drum kit but certainly doesn't sound like the work of an actual drummer. This percussive backbeat thumps and shuffles and could just as easily be someone stomping and clapping as someone just playing the kick and snare parts of a drum kit (which, in all honesty, I suspect is what's actually happening). It gives the whole song an imprecise, shambling gait, which is the kind of thing that only works sometimes, but it works here. "Shimmering Thing" ends up having a loose, comfortable vibe, moreso than some of the other songs here, which are more melancholy in tone.
That's not to say that "Shimmering Thing" doesn't have some melancholy of its own. This entire EP is at least somewhat downbeat, and this song is no exception. Lyrical imagery that stands out for me in this song include phrases about "dirty hands soaked in bleach-water," "we've been waking up to the same sound," and the song's opening lyric: "There are no ideas left in my head, none left to sit with--just time to wait and trash to take out." If I had to guess what this one was about, it'd have something to do with dead-end jobs, but then again, I don't really know.
The EP's final song, "Easy", is noticeably shorter than the rest, not even making the two-minute mark. It also doesn't change nearly as much, mostly sticking to the same two single note progressions. This is another song with the sort of shambling gait of "Shimmering Thing", and here it sounds less like the tired shuffle of someone staggering in to work and more of an easy, loping stride along next to some railroad tracks. It's the one song here that has any carefree feel to it at all, and even that gets inverted over the course of the song. The first time the chorus comes around, Cara Beth is singing "It's easy," but by the end of the song, she's repeating the phrase "It ain't easy." So which is it really? Depends on the day, I suppose. "The way I walk depends upon the kind of day I want," she says at the beginning of the song, and later: "We're fortunate ones. We know the places where we were named and given birth." But once again, I can't really tell you what it all adds up to. I just know it's good.
That's really why I couldn't say if "Good Ones" counts as a title track or not. The EP could be named after that song, or it could be named after the songs on it, in the sense that Cara Beth had written and recorded a bunch of songs around the same time, and these are the good ones. Personally, I hope there are more good ones than this out there, and I hope I get to hear them sometime relatively soon. But even if not, I'm sure I'll be playing this CD for a long time to come.
Cara Beth Satalino - Good Ones
P.S. I would post more than just one song, as I usually do, but the other song I'd post would be "Shimmering Thing", and since that would leave me having posted around 10 minutes of a 14 minute EP, I don't feel that good about doing so. However, Cara Beth has a myspace page where you can listen to more of her songs and order "The Good Ones EP" and her older CD, "Crowded Mouth", through Paypal. I strongly encourage you to hit that up: