The Song Stands Alone

“I wanted a happier album,” Caroline Doctorow said, “which means a stronger back beat, and that leads to Americana.”
Caroline Doctorow, an East Coast Iris DeMent, has a new album coming out. Morgan McGivern

    You think you know Caroline Doctorow? “Something Pulls Me to You,” the opening track of the singer-songwriter’s new album, leaves behind flowery folk for Hank Williams lonesome. Backed by the loping twang of Pete Kennedy’s guitar, it calls to mind hunched patrons at a late-night New Mexico roadside diner, nursing their sorrows as much as their coffee cups.
   “I am a lovesick fool,” the speaker laments, making plain that she’s not giving up on her obsession: “My will is just the dust underneath the wheels of a wrong turn / And losing is just the closing of the day.” Caution? “Just a highway sign rolling by too fast.”
   “This one’s more Americana,” Ms. Doctorow said of the album, “Little Lovin’ Darling,” due out this summer. “People listen to music differently now,” picking and choosing a song here and there to download. This saddens her, as a fan of the long-playing album, and yet in a way frees her. “For the first time I didn’t even think of a theme.”
   Her most recent releases have them, or, better yet, were concept albums. Last year she came out with a Mary McCaslin retrospective, “I Carry All I Own,” and before that were albums exploring the lives of the ’60s folk singers Richard and Mimi Farina: “Carmel Valley Ride,” “a song cycle about them from an outsider’s perspective,” as she put it, and a remarkably well-received collection of their songs, “Another Country.”
   With the new release, “I thought each song could be like a mini opera, in a way. Each song could stand alone.” Music fans can embrace the cultural atomization, as they increasingly have to do, or, for an old-fashioned live show, there’s the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett tomorrow at 8 p.m., where, with her band, the Steamrollers, she’ll be performing on a bill with the folk rock duo the Kennedys — Pete, the guitarist who produced “Little Lovin’ Darling,” and Maura.
    In spite of the pining heart that opens the disc, “I wanted a happier album,” Ms. Doctorow said, “which means a stronger back beat, and that leads to Americana.”
    Her pursuit of happiness, though, led her across the pond, to one of the sunniest musicians around. Some of her songs are “very Donovan-inspired,” she said — “Cactus Flower,” for one, a chiming jaunt through the desert: “Listen closely to the kaleidoscope sound / Rainbow colors all around.”
    “I don’t have a rock ’n’ roll voice,” she said of the suitability of the Scottish troubadour’s music. “I’ve always loved Donovan, but he was overshadowed by Bob Dylan.” (As the Sag Harbor filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary, “Don’t Look Back,” famously attests.)
    The show tomorrow night, tickets to which cost $15, will be a friendly affair, with each performer sitting in with the other. Ms. Doctorow’s collaborations with the Kennedys, Nanci Griffith’s backup band, date to 2008, when she recruited them for “Another Country.”
    “There was no retrospective of Richard Farina’s work,” Ms. Doctorow said, which was surprising given his fame and influence. He died in a motorcycle accident in California in 1966. He was all of 29 years old and had written a novel, “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me,” that ranks with Jeremy Larner’s “Drive, He Said” among the better documents of the era and college life at the time.
    Mimi Farina, however, Joan Baez’s younger sister, lived until 2001, and one of the elements of her life that interested Ms. Doctorow was the way she watched her dead husband become slowly mythologized.
    In working on that project, the Kennedys lived for a month in a recording studio, Narrow Lane Studios, in an outbuilding on Ms. Doctorow’s property in Bridgehampton. “I had never met them.” Ms. Doctorow has two daughters. “We all got along so well.”
    They’ll be going separate ways for the summer, with the Kennedys touring Europe and Ms. Doctorow moving on to bigger venues, among them a 500-seater on July 14 in Chautauqua upstate.