Given her avowed love of old Hollywood glamour (just check out that album cover), the title of Caitlin Rose’s sophomore full-length likely refers to the 1937 backlot comedy The Stand-In, about a love triangle between the title character, a hapless number cruncher and a hopeless film producer. While Rose does write about similar romantic confusions, the film reference nevertheless comes across as false modesty: On these dozen songs, she emerges as a confident, distinctive pop-country artist with a biting lyrical style and a smart way with a hook. Perhaps A Star Is Born sounded too cocky?
Like any good actress, Rose has impressive range. The Stand-In has roots in classic country, displaying the poise of Tammy Wynette on “Everywhere I Go” and the assertiveness of Loretta Lynn on “Waitin’.” Standout “Golden Boy” casts her as a countrypolitan chanteuse against a widescreen arrangement that recalls Owen Bradley, and she turns that chorus into a gently devastating plea: “Golden boy, don’t go away/ I won’t ask you what you’re here for/ If you stay.” Occasionally she holds her twang in check, but for the most part her vocals are expressive, building from the conspiratorial whisper of “When I’m Gone” to the full-throated belt of “Only a Clown.”
Rarely reverent to one style or genre, The Stand-In mixes country with classic rock, radio pop, and even speakeasy jazz on closer “Old Numbers.” The rollicking Hank- and Tennessee Williams-inspired “Menagerie” and first single “Only a Clown” both hinge on Byrds-style guitar riffs that suggest an affinity for West Coast nuggets, and the Las Vegas-set “Pink Champagne” is debauched country folk, a sad-eyed and slightly sloshed reimagining of Gram Parsons’s “Sin City.” No matter how blue she sounds, there’s always a lively hint of humor even in her despair — a distinguishing trait that suggests she may be ready for her close-up.