Caitlyn Shadbolt – Stages

ABC Music / Universal Music Australia

Release Date: November 6th 2020

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

Caitlyn ShadboltStages (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Porcelain
  2. Edge of the Earth
  3. Two Lost Lovers
  4. Oxygen
  5. Bones
  6. Blurry Vision
  7. Everybody Like Me
  8. Your Lady
  9. Square One
  10. Stages

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 couple of years or so, and it was only last year onward, 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 year 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 hearfelt, vulnerable, emotive and poignant musical genres there’s ever been. Fast-forward until 2020, and I’ve decided to delve into way more country music than I myself even realised- artists like Lauren Alania, Lindsay Ell 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 in 2020- writing blog posts about Guy Sebastian, Natalie Imbruglia, Vanessa Amorosi, John Farnham and Missy Higgins all within the last few months, and it has been this collision of country music, and Australian music, where I’ve decided to hear this new album Stages from up-and-coming Aussie country artist Caitlyn Shadbolt…and as I’ve heard a few songs here and there, I can safely say that her music is some of the most light-and-joyful music of 2020 thus far, an artist that if she continues to do what she has done in Stages, will 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 this album release, that is fastly becoming one of the most underrated albums of 2020 thus far. And while there’s been a little deviation into the site reviewing albums on a broader scale than just reviewing CCM; what I’ve firmly realised over this last year and a half, 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 indeed another album from left field that I’ve enjoyed this year, and one that is really reminding me why I do in fact love Australian music, in a way that I maybe haven’t before. 2020, this blog series that I’ve done, and my delving into country music, has all culminated at a head with this album Stages, as I’m reminded that music aritsts tend to surprise you when you least expect it, and Caitlyn’s one such artist that has done so these last few days.

The first single from Stages, ‘Bones’ is presented in an acoustic-country fashion, and gives rise to the theme of following dreams and purusing passions, and having the perseverance, patience and and persistence to keep going, even during the midst of unbelief from family members, friends, and people that attest to your lofty dreaming to the point where people can even laugh that what you want to aspire towards. A song that really challenges us all in asking ourselves why we are doing the things we’re doing- for our parents, for society, or for ourselves; ‘Bones’ really reminds us that sometimes us following something can defy all logic and rational explanation, but more often than not, we follow something because we feel it in our bones, a reminder that even if we may not know that the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives, in the lives of others, and in the decision making processes that we undertake on a daily basis, to feel something in our bones, something inexplainable, is often what the Holy Spirit can come across to us as- something that we know we can’t explain away, but we know is prompting and prodding us to move in a certain direction, often against everything we know to be logistically right. As said by Caitlyn herself, ‘…‘Bones’ is about chasing the dream. It’s a song about persistence, passion and trusting your gut instinct. There are always so many hurdles that come with dreaming big, but when you love something enough, you’ll do it regardless. It couldn’t speak more truth for me…’ ‘Porcelain’, another pre-release track unveiled prior to Stages, is a reminder that people are more fragile than we have made them out to be- there’s so many nuanced layers to a person, and especially a woman, when it comes to pursuing relationships and friendships with people, where we realise that what we say, what we do, how we act and just who we are, will impact and affect people in ways that maybe we didn’t even realise. ‘Porcelain’ is sung from the person who unveils that they feel like porcelain sometimes, and that the qualities of porcelain is that of being fragile, but also people taking care of this porcelain because they themselves know of its high value and quality about it as well. Yes, porcelain can break at any moment, but it is the value that people see in porcelain that they hold this item in high regard. People are compared to being that of porcelain, and especially women, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We hold honour and respect for those that we know are a little frailer and easier to break than others, and just because someone feels like they are of porcelain, doesn’t mean they don’t have value.

‘Edge of the Earth’ is your perfect summer jam- listen to it in the car on long drives and road trips down the coast, as Caitlyn presents a track that can be seen as a carefree song about having less responsibilities and being an anti-establishment song, but as we look deeper into this musically inviting and joyous track, that Caitlyn has presented yet another theme in this 3:28 track- to run into the deep end, taking risks and travelling into the unknown, can all seem like daunting and worrying feats to accomplish, but this track celebrates these things that we as human race often feel paralysed towards, because fear and worry breeds in the face of the unknown. Because to travel to the ‘edge of the earth’ in a figurative sense is to jump from being certain to being uncertain, and that is a scary thing. ‘Edge of the Earth’ gives us an understanding that just as much as it can be scary, it can also be exciting and hopeful too- to move from what is known to what is unknown can be viewed as yet another opportunity to learn, grow, conquer a frontier or master a skill that you may not have been proficient with, or to just move from being stagnant in your life, to living a life of purpose and intentionality. ‘Two Lost Lovers’ is a song about longing to connect with someone on the same wavelength as you, even if you know that what you’re searching for is someone as broken and lost as you are. Because that’s all we can do, in order to feel like what we’re going through matters, we realise that to connect with people who are just as broken, can be more healing for us (and for the other person) than to try to relate to someone who may not know or even understand what you’re going through. ‘Two Lost Lovers’ is a track of travelling thorugh life with someone who may be as equally lost as you, but still very much has the same dream of learning, growing, being humble, and realising that life in all its twists and turns, is just another way for us to learn more about ourselves, about people, and about God, than maybe we have ever learnt, if we hadn’t had gone through such period of ‘lost’ moments.

Throughout the album, we see the passion of Caitlyn shine through, and even though this album isn’t really an out-and-out country music album, it is a great Australian album, one that has thoroughly solidified my love for Australian music, moving forward. ‘Oxygen’ is quite possibly the most poppy song on the album, and speaks about a toxic relationship- and how the persona in the song is urging the other person to retreat from a relationship that is obviously not working because of reasons not expounded in the song, and yet ‘Oxygen’ itself feels like a final moment in a relationship where breaking up seems more of a sensible option than trying to get through a relationship. More often than not, you can’t necessarily see if a relationship is toxic until after the fact, and such a song as ‘Oxygen’ can hopefully give us tools to confront our own relationships, to see if there is some behaviour, on our part and the other persons (be it in a romantic relationship, or even amongst friends), that needs to change, so that healthy dialogues and mutual respect and love on both sides, can thrive and flourish instead of tenseness and unmet and unexpected expectations. ‘Blurry Vision’ is just the piano and Caitlyn’s voice, and quite possibly could be the most vulnerable song on the album. Here, Caitlyn sings about people from various walks of life, falling into difficult situations, and that often we as outsiders, or even them as people in it, can often have blurry vision at the situation at hand, and can often say things out of turn, or even try to offer solutions, when all that is really needed in that moment is to sit and wrestle with what people are going through at the moment. For we as a culture have a tendency to always be results-focused, to try to fix something immediately, when often the best times to grow is when things are in fact broken, and we can see that maybe, just maybe, it’s a foundational issue and we need to fix a lot more about ourselves than maybe we initially thought. ‘Blurry Vision’ seeks to ask the questions- do we have blurry vision, and we don’t know it? Are we too focused on trying to rush our own situations to the other side, that we miss out on often the greatest healing and the greatest growing that can ever be done? ‘Everybody Like Me’ is a joyous presentation of 2:47 as Caitlyn relays her own daily struggles, and reminds us all that often when we think we’re alone in trying to make ends meet, and especially in 2020 when everyone has been hit with COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictive effects on society as a whole; we can rest in the knowing that other people are going through similar things than we are, and that we are not alone in our dealings with our day-to-day; while ‘Your Lady’ is a country-esque Taylor Swift-like track about the romantic moments in a relationship, and the little things that this persona does in said relationship to show that they are ‘your lady’, a way of showing the significant other, that you are theirs, that you love them and no one else.

‘Square One’ goes back to the acoustic backdrop where we know through this album, that Caitlyn thrives so much in, as this track reminds us all that going back to square one, back to the drawing board, may not necessarily be a bad thing. For sometimes when you throw everything off the board for a sec, you realise what you really believe and what you don’t, what your dreams and aspirations are, what your assumptions about life and people are as well. You get exposed to your secrets, and your fears, worries and prejudices come to light. ‘Square One’ is a reset-song that Caitlyn has released; and is a great song for introspection and active contemplation. The album then ends with the title track ‘Stages’, a great pun on words, as the song alludes to the time that Caitlyn has spent on stages, live music productions, and her love for that and the tension she feels in this moment of 2020 where live music can’t be a thing at the moment; while this notion of stages can also allude to this understanding that we live our lives in different sections, with different circles of people, and holding different values and beliefs than what we once were previously. And maybe that’s ok. To live life in stages means that you’re open to growing, and even open to the possibility that maybe what you have thought about life, and everything in it, may be more short-sighted than what you even thought. ‘Stages’ is as vulnerable as they come, as the end of the song presents Caitlyn in a happy relationship, contrasting that to the subject matter of ‘Oxygen’, and we can see a more healthy, happier Caitlyn by the end of the album, one that is reminding us all that there are people out there, and a person out there for us, that will see everything that we stand for and everything that we don’t, will see our darkest deepest fears, and our joyous triumphs, and will love us anyway and unconditionally. And that message, in and of itself, is a great reminder of Caitlyn’s powerful album, one that is an encouragement to many, myself included.

 ‘…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 second album Stages is such where even I have found myself being impressed by this young 25 year old Gympie native, and being reminded 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 Stages, I am reminded that to be exactly where you are is ok as well. Stages won’t rock the charts as an album like The SPEED OF NOW, Pt 1 (Keith Urban) 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 the album Stages has served its purpose. This is an artist that you don’t want to be sleeping on- Stages 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: Edge of the Earth, Bones, Stages

Score: 4.5/5

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

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