Caitlyn Shadbolt – Bloom & Surrender

ABC Music

Release Date: June 9th 2023

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

Caitlyn ShadboltBloom & Surrender (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Monsters
  2. Let It In
  3. You’re Mine
  4. Lost On Me
  5. Dumb Decisions (feat. Melanie Dyer)
  6. Common Ground
  7. Secret Stories
  8. Growing Pains
  9. Run My Race
  10. Fly on the Wall

As I’ve said in album reviews I’ve written before, and in many blog posts I’ve written before, country music and myself have only been acquainted within the last few years (since 2019), and it was only in the last few years that I started listening to country fully and enjoying what I was hearing. Artists like Keith Urban, The McClymonts, Lady A, Little Big Town, Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and Rascal Flatts, have all been across my radar within the last couple of years or so, and I’ve realised this one thing- that country music isn’t that bad, and that it may be one of the most heartfelt, vulnerable, emotive, and poignant musical genres there’s ever been. Fast-forward until 2023, and I’ve decided to delve into way more country music than I myself even realised- artists like Lauren Alania, Lindsay Ell, Maddie & Tae, Kelsea Ballerini, Runaway June, Thomas Rhett, The Shires, Ingrid Andress, Tenille Townes, and Tenille Arts are just some of the newer up-and-coming artists where I’ve realised that their music is just as emotive and heartfelt as the seasoned veterans. I’ve delved more into Australian music over the last couple of years, and it was because of my blogging from 2019 onward, that I listened to artists like Guy Sebastian, Delta Goodrem, Natalie Imbruglia, Vanessa Amorosi, John Farnham, Missy Higgins and The McClymonts, to name a few. It is when country music and Australian music come to collide with each other, that I find things become interesting and unique. Because most of country music in general that tends to be advertised and promoted seems to be more along the lines of American/Canadian music, Australian country (and maybe even British country to some extent) tend to be shafted, for one reason or another.

I’ve been listening to a little bit of Australian country music, namely The McClymonts, Shannon Noll and Keith Urban, over the years. And it was back in 2020 where I reviewed my first country Aussie album in Caitlyn Shadbolt’s Stages, and I guess ever since then…well, Aussie music and country music are two ‘genres’ that I’ve welcomed much more into my musical listening experience with much anticipation and expectation. As I’ve written in my 2020 review for Stages, I’ll say this again about Caitlyn’s music as a whole- her music is some of the most light-and-joyful music I’ve heard in country music in quite some time- an artist that if she continues to do what she has done in both Stages and Bloom & Surrender, she’ll go very far, not just in the Australian music industry, but maybe even on the world stage of country music too. A finalist on the 2014 season of Australia’s The X Factor, this Gympie, Queensland native has exuberated a lot of passion and enthusiasm for the music that she’s released thus far. And while there’s been a little deviation over the few years into the site reviewing albums on a broader scale than just reviewing CCM; what I’ve firmly realised over this little while, is that our Lord God can choose to speak to us through whatever music He chooses, for us to learn more about ourselves, each other, and about the Lord, and if it is through the avenue of mainstream country music, or even Aussie music, then…bring it on, I say! Caitlyn Shadbolt’s album is a musical, stylistic and thematical standout and one that is really reminding me why I do in fact love Australian music, in a way that I maybe haven’t before.

Standing at 10 songs in this album release for Caitlyn, Bloom and Surrender is divided into two sets of 5 songs- Bloom and Surrender– one side more extroverted, bubbly, out-going songs, and the other side a much more introspective, heartfelt, emotive selection of tracks. Unveiled in June, Caitlyn shows us two different sides of herself, in some of her most poignant songs I’ve heard to date. Relatable (I guess, because all people have their introverted and extraverted sides of themselves) and honest, this is Caitlyn at her best. While her music as a whole isn’t really recognised within the global country music industry, she’s widely appreciated in her home country of Australia, and maybe, just maybe, that’s all you need, to make an impact where you are as a musician and an artist. As Caitlyn herself has relayed to us all, ‘…for the most part, I’m a happy-go-lucky, country-loving, small-town girl. But like everyone, I also have a side that is reflective and introverted. I really wanted to share both sides of me but was unsure how best to deliver it. So here we are, with two ‘sides’, sharing the extroverted and introverted side of me!… BLOOM: You ever scream a song at the top of your lungs but don’t actually know what the lyrics mean? Yeah, that’s Bloom. This side is a party! Forget trying to be serious, let your inner child out for a moment and dance. I co-wrote this side with two of the funnest people I know – Melanie Dyer and Sarah Buckley. This side feels like eating cake for breakfast. Or being the first person on the dance floor. Or going on an adventure, just because! Do all these songs make sense? No. But do they need to? Also no…SURRENDER: Singing, writing – music in general, is so therapeutic to me. I started writing the songs from Surrender in 2020 (you know, THAT chaotic time), and I felt like the word ‘Surrender’ really encapsulated the essence of them. Surrender to having no idea. Surrender to expectations and how you think your life will unfold. Surrender to how you really feel. Just let it happen. Sometimes I write with intention, and other times I write without realising there’s stuff I need to get OUT. So that’s Surrender. I encourage you to interpret the songs however they resonate with you…’ It is in this quote from Caitlyn herself, where I understand that this new album of hers is her most vulnerable, cathardic, and the most ‘her’ that any of her albums have been. This is what country music (and authentic music as well) is all about- telling stories and songs that people can relate to in a moment where we as listeners come together and understand that the people singing songs to us are just as flawed and messed up as we are- and that gives us comfort and hope in our own lives, knowing that other people are dealing with things too and that we are not alone in what we feel and experience.

Originally released on Australian country music singer-songwriter Melanie Dyer’s 2022 album Between You And Me, Caitlyn and Melanie deliver a duet that is heartfelt, fun, and…nonsensical??? ‘Dumb Decisions’ released last year, and I’ve been enjoying this song for quite a while, as this jovial and fun-filled track, is a great reminder to not take life too seriously, that ‘…all the best stories come from dumb decisions…’, implying that even the worst of circumstances can lead to stories that you can laugh about as the years progress forward. What may be considered to be humiliating at the current moment, can break the ice and be a laughing joke amongst mates and friends, at a later date. Maybe ‘Dumb Decisions’ is just a song for us to smile at ourselves to, and remind each other to always keep reminding us, to live life to the full, to use humour in a way to hopefully make light of certain heavy topics and situations, as well as to just enjoy life, full stop. Because for so long, we’ve been taking a lot of things for granted in our lives, and ‘Dumb Decisions’ calls us to not obsess or fret over the ‘dumb decisions’ we’ve undertaken in life, because these decisions could lead to great moments of realisation and introspection to come.

Throughout the rest of the album, we see Caitlyn deliver powerful moments of realisation and heartfelt emotion as vulnerability comes to the fore in these reflective moments of country music that is rarely ever seen in mainstream American country. Nevertheless, maybe Caitlyn and her most recent album can pave the way for artists to become more vulnerable in their music, period? ‘Monsters’ stands at track #1 and begins the album sounding like a hybrid of something you’d find on a Taylor Swift or a Keith Urban album, and while it was never Caitlyn’s intention to sound like Taylor or Keith on ‘Monsters’, it nevertheless came out like that all along- ‘…I never intended to write the song for it to sound like the love child of Keith Urban and Taylor Swift, it just turned out that way and I’m quite happy about it…’ Caitlyn’s music in general tends to lean more to pop-country, a brand of country music that is quite happy, jovial, sunny and warm compared to the typical bro-country or even a boyfriend-country that tends to flood the American market, and that is what is refreshing about Caitlyn’s music overall. As she continues to relay, ‘…honestly, when I write I don’t even try to be anything, it’s just whatever comes out on the day. I listen to a bunch of pop music and singer-songwriter stuff, and I think that influence comes out subconsciously…I kind of say there’s always three versions of every song – or even four, really! There’s the one you write, the one you record, and the one you perform. And, you know, perform depending on whether it’s acoustic or with a band. It was really awesome to premiere [Monsters] at CMC because I wanted to get a feel of the audience reaction and I think it was pretty good! It felt great on stage…’ ‘Monsters’ is about this duel and battle within ourselves to want to do the right thing, but eventually succumbing to the thing that which we know is wrong, bad, or just unhealthy for us, but we undertake it anyway because…well, because of peer pressure? Because it feels good? Because there’s nothing else? Because we see that that there’s nothing else? Because we don’t believe we can be brought out of said toxic situation? Whatever the actual case, ‘Monsters’ I’m sure can help a lot of people, remind us all that maybe, just maybe, we need to change the situations that we are in right now, because if we don’t, we may feel as though we’ve past the point of no return. Even though this song is placaded with a sunny demeanor and a fun-filled upbeat moment of jovialness, the lyrics are anything but.

‘Let It In’ is a song about letting go of expectations of what you would think this life ought to be, and just letting go and letting it ‘be’- letting ‘it’ in, be it a relationship, whatever word the Lord wants to encourage us (or someone else through us) with, or even allowing the Lord to encourage us with whatever He wants for that particular season. Letting anything in without expectation can be fearful at first, but sometimes, letting something in can allow us to be less closed off and more open to whatever is brought in front of us in this road called life. ‘You’re Mine’ is a great upbeat dance-acoustic track about coming together in a relationship and realising that you are theirs and the other person in yours, not in a possessive sense, but in a sense of ‘I want to spend the rest of my life with them’ moment, one that ought to encourage people to seek relationships and want to be in them, instead of whatever the opposite is, that is promoted right now. ‘Lost on Me’ talks about appreciation for your significant other in your relationship, and that even though they may drive you crazy sometimes, you can’t imagine life without this particular person (a way to be appreciative and grateful for your person in your life), while ‘Secret Stories’ captures a moment at the start of a relationship when everything is new, exciting, wonderful and full of chemistry, so much to the point when you hope so bad that this feeling is real and not imaginary. ‘Run My Race’ talks about the importance of running your own race in life, be it in your profession and in your relationships, reminding us all that we all have to keep our eye on the prize and to not let worry or anxiety deter us from what we ought to be doing- it reminds me of Hebrews 12, where the writer (Paul presumedly) speaks also about running the race and focusing on what lies ahead – ‘…therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart…’

Caitlyn also invites us into the heartfelt moments of ‘Common Ground’, a song about two different people who are seemingly polar opposites; but compliment each other to the tee. It may relate to romantic relationships, but it can be just about anything- falling in love and being together with someone who is totally different from you is the first interpretation, but it can also be about finding common ground with someone who may disagree with you politically or even on a moral or spiritual level too. it’s a song that allows us to exercise grace, mercy and compassion to one another as we strive towards unity and celebration of our similarities rather than divde because of our differences. The album then wraps up with vulnerable tracks ‘Growing Pains’ and ‘Fly on the Wall’- the former (‘Growing Pains’) is a hard look at society and how when you’re young, you prioritise this and that, but when you grow up, you have to hopefully have a more mature look at life and enter in some ‘growing pains’ where you undertake some emotional and spiritual growth and understanding; whilst the latter (‘Fly on the Wall’) is ‘…arguably the most vulnerable song I have released. I wrote the lyrics first as a poem, in 20 minutes, and the guitar line soon followed. I really encourage people to interpret this song however they see fit. Sometimes explaining a song in laymen’s terms takes away the magic. But the essence of this song is about going until you’ve got nothing left, but not being able to acknowledge it until you consider your situation in the third person. I recorded this song in one take, guitar and vocals in one, with no editing. It’s raw as raw gets…’ It’s realising deep down that you’re spent emotionally; but feel as if you have to keep going because you think that is what society expects of you. You are unsure how to communicate that to people because you’re afraid of what they may think.

 ‘…once you’re on a TV show and then get thrown into the music industry, you find you learn the hard way. Realising you have to hustle and the whole industry thing, it’s such a game. Just because you’ve got a good song and a good voice, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get the headlining festival spot, and that kind of thing. I think as a creative person, you always want more. We can never settle. So, for me, I have goals. I say, “Once I get here, I’ll be happy.” And then I found that I got there, and I still wasn’t that happy. So, there’s that. It’s good because you’re always striving for better, but it’s also a bit of a curse, because you can never arrive at your destination. I think a lot of creative people feel that, for sure…’ Caitlyn Shadbolt’s third album Bloom & Surrender is her best album that I reckon she’s done (mind you, I haven’t really listened much to her 2017 debut project), as I’m reminded through Caitlyn’s music, that it is ok to love country music, and ok to love Australian music. Yes, being a country Australian music artist may not necessarily get you the points to make it in Nashville, Tenneessee, and maybe that’s the point, and maybe it’s ok not to be as big as what some other country stars in Nashville are. For sometimes in order to be big and famous, you have to forsake some of your morals and ethics down the road. And in listening to Caitlyn’s album, I am reminded that to be exactly where you are is ok as well. Bloom & Surrender won’t rock the charts as an album like Growin’ Old (Luke Combs) would, and maybe it was never meant to be, in the first place. But even if the small community of Gympie have been affected and impacted by the music of Caitlyn, and whoever else hears it outside of that (myself included), then Caitlyn’s album has served its purpose. This is an artist that you don’t want to be sleeping on- Bloom & Surrender is unique in the way that it blends together Australian music and country music to have a distinct flavour unlike any other country music, the U.S. has given to us. And that in and of itself, is a very good thing indeed. Well done Caitlyn for such a vibrant and energetic album, looking forward to checking out the debut 2017 album, whenever I have a chance next!

3 songs to listen to: Common Ground, Dumb Decisions, Monsters

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: The McClymonts, Amber Lawrence, Missy Lancaster, Delta Goodrem, Missy Higgins

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