Review Summary: You take my ears and drag me head first, fearless
Sometimes, it’s best to leave obvious stylistic comparisons behind and give an artist her due. Music is ever-evolving, and there is always bound to be overlap, especially between those within the same genre. This, however, is not one of those times. If you’ve ever listened to pre-pop Taylor Swift, then you’ve heard in some form or another everything that Catherine McGrath brings to the table. The Irish country-pop songwriter is full of Fearless
-era Swiftisms, strumming her acoustic guitar while singing in a soothing but rangeless voice that captures everything that it means to be a sixteen year old girl. I guess, anyway…I wouldn’t know.
I shouldn’t be so critical. Originality is long dead in both country and pop, and especially in groomed-for-radio country pop
. Also, if you’re going to emulate a figure in pop-culture, who better than Taylor Swift？ The woman has the world at her knees, is wealthy beyond imagination, and has maintained a relatively clean image that promotes self-respect and integrity. In these regards, the near flawless imitation that McGrath does could be viewed as both a positive and a negative trait.
McGrath’s debut, Talk of This Town
, is essentially Fearless
’ younger sibling. It does everything it can to watch, learn, and repeat what it hears – an analogy that makes all too much sense considering that McGrath was introduced to country music by Swift’s ‘Love Story.’ The opening title track possesses shades of ‘You Belong With Me’ (“Always the one left out / Just the girl at the back”) along with the defiant attitude of ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ (“So I'll keep walking, you'll keep talking / I'll move on and still be the talk of this town”), and despite the frustrating deja vu, the super infectious chorus tidies everything up in a way that somehow makes it okay. When McGrath sings “and you are the edges” on the ensuing track, the vocal inflection sounds suspiciously similar to when Swift sings “and we’ll sing hallelujah” on ‘Change.’ Again, though, the song flows effortlessly and possesses an endearing simplicity, something that can be easily enjoyed provided you’re able to quiet the voices in your head reminding you where you’ve heard it before.
The strongest moment on Talk of This Town
comes on the final track, which in spite of fitting into the stereotypical piano ballad closer
mold, illustrates the most potential and room for growth. McGrath belts out some gorgeous verses here, hitting notes that aren’t even aimed for during all of the collective preceding moments, atop swelling strings and delicate classical piano notes. It’s still pretty standard fare, but for the first time McGrath sounds in-the-moment – even consumed by it at times (“You took every piece of me you could) – rather than trying to reimagine her favorite clips from Fearless
or Speak Now
. It’s proof that McGrath can have her own voice, and connect with listeners using her own experiences, by only slightly adjusting the formula. It’s something she’ll need to do if she ever wants to escape the inevitable Swift comparisons and get closer to someone like a Kacey Musgraves – which at this point in their respective careers marks a loftier benchmark.
McGrath has a lot of talent, but it’s not being put to its best use here. On Talk of This Town
, her vocal style, overall mannerisms, and even the way she pens love-struck, fantastical lyrics about glass slippers/fairytale romances will never get her pointed on a trajectory higher than Swift’s cover band. There’s a lot about this album that feels like the producer/label trying desperately to cling to 2008, and recreate the sort of frenzy that has followed Swift around her entire life. The thing is, nobody needs to go on that ride again. It was fun back then (to some), but McGrath has to blaze her own trail. Talk of This Town
will succeed in getting Catherine’s name out there, and will probably place her on the radar of thousands of country-pop fans looking for catchy new tunes. McGrath has potential, but right now her music is very surface-level; a one-time nostalgia trip for those who want a return to Swift’s country heyday.