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Chance meeting blossoms into an album of duets

Bet your bottom dollar on this: No one has ever accused Thad Cockrell of reticence. Caitlin Cary remembers meeting Thad for the first time at Humble Pie, back in 2000, when he was just a fledging songwriter without a band or an album. "Thad's just totally brave about getting to know people, and he gave me a tape the first time I met him," remembers Cary, relaxing on a Friday night after a whirlwind couple of weeks of recording the second Tres Chicas album in Europe, hosting her parents for several days, reuniting three-fifths of Whiskeytown in Slim's Downtown, and re-learning her songs with Thad in two days for their upcoming tour. "He didn't have any records out, but when I put it on, I was like, 'Hey, this kid's got talent.'"

Cockrell remembers it a bit differently. He remembers meeting Cary one night at Lakeside Lounge as a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"I was down there having a drink with a friend of mine while I was in seminary in Wake Forest. You know, we figured we were far enough away from school to have a drink," jokes Cockrell, still giggly after spending several hours hanging out with The Pixies in Raleigh. "I started talking with Caitlin, and she was nicer than she needed to be. She doesn't remember that, though."

Either way, Cockrell and Cary both entertained the idea of a duets album from the beginning. A Whiskey-town set at The Brewery was Cockrell's first rock club show (or second, since tonight he's getting Six String Drag and Whiskeytown confused), and he's quick to say, "It's Caitlin Cary. Who wouldn't want to sing with her?" Cary agrees that Cockrell's voice has a hint of her former harmony partner, Ryan Adams, at his Whiskeytown peak.

"I hear that now and again--like 'Second Option.' We could sell that as a lost Whiskeytown track," she notes, adding that sometimes two voices just seem to fit. "I went and did the harmony, and [producer] Brad [Jones] was like, 'Why was that so easy?' Well, I did that for 10 years, so of course that's easy."

But the timing was always wrong. Though the two have been spending Sunday afternoons writing together for years now, one was always too involved in another project--solo records, tours, Cary's Chicas, Cockrell's moonlighting with Roman Candle--to find mutual studio time.

They finally did late last summer. Cockrell had been hanging out with Brad Jones, a hot Nashville producer best known for Josh Rouse's Nashville and bass work on Elvis Costello's North. He thought Jones was a natural fit for what would become Begonias. Cary warmed to Jones, too, when she learned that he had produced two records from Dolly Varden, a Chicago alt.country band that she describes as "world-stopping."

Thinking about Begonias, Cary decides that her favorite flower is "Please Break My Heart," a tune she co-wrote with Cockrell for their duets album before recording it for her second solo album, While You Weren't Looking.

But Cockrell takes a more holistic approach in picking his favorite thing: "With Nashville Skyline and Blonde on Blonde and the great Neil Young records, there's just some stuff that you can tell there is no trick behind. With Nashville Skyline, Bob went in there with the things he believed in and with great musicians. We went in there with the songs that we wrote, played the whole thing live, and there's not a trick to it. And it sounds great."

Cockrell and Cary play Cat's Cradle, Saturday, June 18 opening for Alejandro Escovedo.

  • Chance meeting blossoms into an album of duets

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