As heard on her recently reissued 1964 debut, All the Good Times, Stuart was remarkable in a variety of ways, not the least of which was her broad repertoire. Performing old Carter Family tunes, Tin Pan Alley standards, hillbilly yodels, and Furry Lewis blues numbers with equal aplomb, Stuart must have blown away her authenticity-obsessed audiences, back in the days when reissue labels were scarcely a twinkle on the horizon. Her familiarity with such arcane material came coupled with an adorably precious voice that made her assault on the male-dominated scene that much more brazen. Although she was 20 years old at the time of her first record, Stuart sounded 15, with an adolescent cheekiness that has echoed through the decades in the work of artists like Rachael Sweet, Bratmobile, and the Gossip.
By the time this rebel chirp reached Catherine Irwin, the Freakwater co-founder had transformed it into a sinister, bitter snarl. Irwin's powerful new solo album, Cut Yourself a Switch, follows in the path of her Chicago alt-hick band, updating the blues-country crossovers of the Great Depression in a savagely bleak, almost Bukowskian manner. In Irwin's world, bitterness and booze push lovers over the brink, her characters begging forgiveness while craving an extra dose of misery.
As on her Freakwater albums, Irwin shows she has a solid command of the conventions of old-fashioned country, making her stylistic distortions and embellishments seem plausible and fresh. On Cut Yourself a Switch, her mournful, midtempo approach dissuades listeners from taking her music as simple entertainment. The album is melodramatic and intelligent, emotionally raw and utterly convincing -- the perfect reflection of our increasingly gloomy times.