Caethua - "If the River Dries Up" (I May Be Gone For A Long, Long Time)
I May Be Gone For A Long, Long Time is the second album by Caethua, the song-based alias of Midwest multi-instrumentalist Clare Hubbard who also records as Sports and a member of DBH. In the former, she builds collage-based hip hop; the latter is a gutter jazz improv troupe, where she mans the sax. The diverging recipe is not that unlikely for a young artist these days, and Hubbard does a nice job of keeping her differing personas distinct. Caethua, for instance, builds a majestic framework of rural poetics and darkly colored orchestration that manages to cross the aesthetics of Harry Smith and This Mortal Coil.
The mood of the 14 songs here are summed up nicely in the opening “Oily Heat and Muddy Waters.” With an acoustic folk strum as anchor, Hubbard’s strong voice blends in and out of the chimerical atmosphere and becomes another leaden layer at times. Folk notions are subdued in an almost eerie ambience that ebbs from clanging bells and distant creaks that are more incidental aura than craft. The abstract is amplified in the instrumental “Cutting Away the Ice,” in which a saxophone wails faintly as a distant foghorn.
Cindy Dall’s 1996 debut is Caethua’s key comparison, but whereas Dall benefited from Bill Callahan’s shadowy chamber production, Hubbard recorded the album herself in decrepit North Carolina houses and a 52-foot boat as it floated down the St. Lawrence River. That gritty, DIY approach is also evident in the salvaged LP jackets reused here, wrapping Caethua in a nonreferential realm.
Many songs are centered around escape, whether physically or otherworldly. The repeating line of ”I’d rather die than come home” in the title track glimpses at the album’s core. With no banjo or claw hammer inclusions, “Get Along” offers a direct reference to early America; it’s a paean to communal living with nods toward compost piles and broken-down cars.
While ghostly traces are swabbed across most songs, Caethua remains bold when stripped down to a single piano on “Across the Atlantic” or guitar for “If the River Dries Up,” a tale of discovery and wandering where a whistle solo echoes the author’s loneliness between the hopeful melody. With its hand screened cover and pasted on photo, the only setback for I May Be… may be its lack of exposure. More people should hear this engaging voice turn familiar gestures into untrodden and insolent music.