Caitlyn Smith released her EP Starfire this weekend, a five-track effort that’s nothing short of mesmerizing. Whether you’re a casual music listener or you wore out Everything To You, chances are you’re familiar with Smith, whose work includes co-writing the Meghan Trainor smash featuring John Legend, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You.”
On Starfire, Smith is electric. She has the ability to seamlessly own sultry and bombastic, breathy and belting. “Before You Call Me Baby,” which leads the EP, houses a bit of each, companioned by a bluesy groove. “Do You Think About Me” too showcases her dynamism, paired with a lyric that delicately ponders its title’s subject.“I’ve been living my life on the frustrated side / Cause I can’t hear your name without wanting to cry,” she sings.
“Tacoma,” an absolute standout that was recorded by Garth Brooks and that Trisha Yearwood says she’ll record one day, tells a story of leaving that depicts both the intimacy of car and heartbreak and the vast expanse of highway, the freedom of cutting lose. “Every time that I miss you / I’ll hit the gas as fast as I can,” she sings. Smith has an incredible ability to throw some grit in her vocal at just the right moment; it’s never showy, but always finds its way right to your heart. She does so in choice moments; towards the end of “Tacoma,” she takes a pause, changes keys, and induces chills in her listener.
Smith’s songs pair well with the road; “Starfire,” which is a steering-wheel-tapping empowerment anthem, subtly strengthens from the inside out. “You can’t burn out this starfire, no matter what you say,” Smith sings on the hook of the title track.
It’s both apt and a bit comforting that the song yielded the EP title, with a song like “This Town Is Killing Me” hovering at the end, brimming with vulnerability and uncertainty. Akin to Charles Kelley’s haunting “Leaving Nashville,” the song is an ode to the trials of pursuing music, though perhaps a touch more blue – “I pour my heart out / three minutes at a time on a J-45 and no one’s listening,” she begins, to conclude “Nashville, you win / your steel guitars and broken hearts have done me in.” For those pursuing a dream, musically or otherwise, it’s painfully resonant – missing out on love because you pushed it away, missing the funeral of a loved one. “I wanted it so bad and now I just wanna go home,” she sings.
If “Starfire” is the celebration of the creative flame, “This Town Is Killing Me” is its wake, shuddering with the hollow loss of passion-fueled purpose. It’s often half-jokingly said that if you can do anything other than be a recording artist, you should; young troubadours scoffing at perhaps cynical elders need only to turn to Smith’s song to understand why. Even the final conclusion – “Nashville, you win / Cause I’ll wake up here tomorrow and do it all over again” – is as much falling on the sword as it is offering an upside. Sure, there isn’t much optimism here, but it captures a sentiment that resonates with many. Though the song might cause some between-truck-stop tears for sprinter van inhabitants, perhaps there is an upswing: moments like this are the forge in which starfire is formed.
Grab Starfire on iTunes and preview below.