Follow the leader

The skepticism alarms usually start ringing when an artist releases new albums in consective years. (Except for Japanese artists, who are tacitly required to release on a yearly schedule.)

So when Caitlin Cary unveiled I’m Staying Out just 13 months after her full-length solo debut, While You Were Sleeping, the alarms went off on cue.

How can anyone craft such a stunning debut, then turn around and offer more material?

The alarm is somewhat justified — I’m Staying Out doesn’t immediately grab hold the way its predecessor did. But give it just another few spins, and it eventually will.

Cary’s second solo album offers much of the same as before — country-fied rock rendered with a honey-sweet alto reminiscent of Linda Thompson.

There aren’t any songs that would make a person stop and listen — not on the level of “What Would You Do?” or “Shallow Heart, Shallow Water” — but all of the songs have something that eventually seeps in subconsiously.

“What was her name? What was her name?” Cary sings on “Cello Girl”, a song that could either be about a lost friend or a lost identity. Cary poses that question through a melody that’s difficult to forget.

The lyrics of “You Don’t Have to Hide” address a distant lover. Another singer would have made those lyrics sound trite, but Cary makes them sound like she’s addresses you. The longing in her voice can’t be faked.

“Please Break My Heart” is steeped in the tradition of the Patsy Cline weeper, while the vocal harmony on “Beauty Fades” sound gorgeous.

Perhaps more impressive is the fact I’m Staying Out continues the cohesiveness Cary staked out on her debut. There weren’t any fillers then, and there aren’t any fillers now.

(“The Next One”, however, has the unfortunate potential to be used in a coffee commercial.)

If anything, the album feels as if it finishes too early. When the ending strains of “I Want to Learn to Waltz” dissolve, it leaves a listener craving for more but satisfied with what was heard.

I’m Staying Out is a sophomore slump only in regard to how quickly it grabs you. It’s not a love-on-first-listen album. But in every other aspect, it’s a solid follow-up to an excellent start.