Bridgehampton musician Caroline Doctorow has always been a student of the folk process, in which the heritage of stories and songs are carefully studied and expanded upon by newer generations of folk artists.
She aptly describes her new album, “Little Lovin’ Darling,” released June 29, as “one part Donovan wannabe and the other part Hank Williams lonesome,” but the music on this record, in true folk process style, runs the gamut of influences, some folk and some not, from The Incredible String Band to the Hollies to Woody Guthrie.
“Donovan is considered a folk artist, but he was able to come up with real rocking tunes in a real folk kind of way,” she said in a recent interview with the Beacon.
This is Ms. Doctorow’s ninth studio album, and her fourth produced by Pete Kennedy in Ms. Doctorow’s Narrow Lane Studios in Bridgehampton. Though Ms. Doctorow has a full touring band, the Steamrollers, with a shifting lineup of solid musicians, Mr. Kennedy does a good deal of the playing on the record: guitars, bass, organ, drums and electric sitar.
“I was ready to make a happier album. I don’t have a rock and roll voice, so I tried to cop Donovan’s grooves as a psychedelic folk rocker,” said Ms. Doctorow. “I really love his lyrics and I thought it was a good genre to try to make a contribution to. I find myself really drawn to lyrics. That’s what I think about first. Hank Williams was a master of that.”
Ms. Doctorow has long released albums that were song cycles, all focused on a single theme, as in her 2009 release, “Another Country,” of songs written by Richard and Mimi Fariña or her release last year of “I Carry All I Own,” an homage to Mary McCaslin.
“It’s part of a series with Pete Kennedy to showcase important American songwriters around the 1960s,” she said. “Mary McCaslin’s work is really important in folk history. Her theme was the American west and disillusionment with it. It’s mellowed to be an anthem for conservation. Her song “Dust Devils” really echoes a global warming theme, but it was written 40 years ago.”
With this new record, Ms. Doctorow said, she thought hard about how people now purchase single songs on iTunes, not entire albums, and decided to focus less on the album as a whole than on the individual songs.
“It frees you to not really think so much about a concept,” she said.
But the themes of loneliness, of love and of the west are still evident in everything she does.
“A lot of the songs are love songs, but they’re at many different stages of love,” she said. “I titled the record “Little Lovin’ Darling,” but the darling isn’t such a darling and the love isn’t such a little love. People are very complicated.”
“Little Lovin’ Darling” begins on a psychedelic note. Mr. Kennedy brings out the electric sitar early on the opening track, “That’s How,” about a woman promising to miss her lover when he’s gone. The psychedelia turns up a notch on “Cactus Flower,” perhaps the most Donovan-inspired song on the record.
By the fourth song, “I’ll Outrun You Bye and Bye,” Ms. Doctorow has slipped into a country groove, helped along by an eerie twangy bass line and fellow songwriter Inda Eaton’s harmony vocals.
From there in, the album becomes more tender, the songs seem more personal, and Ms. Doctorow’s lyricism shines, particularly in “My Sunday House,” an homage to Ms. Eaton’s touring RV, named Delmer, which has become famous in the music community of the East End. Ms. Eaton took Delmer across the country to Los Angeles for her “Go West” tour last year.
“When you do a tour like that with your fellow musicians, it becomes your home and religion,” said Ms. Doctorow. “It becomes your Sunday house. You have your family rituals there, whatever it is you chose to observe. That’s a very cherished home.”
The album stays dust-bowl lonesome from that point out, with an homage to the populism of Woody Guthrie, “The Ballad Maker,” who said “the world is the music and the people are the song,” and in “Southern Skies,” a love song set among drops of rain on the Kansas dirt, “driving through the Smoky Mountains/heading through Monroe and then Jackson/you forget your anger and your sadness/when you cross that bridge on big Lake Pontchartrain.”
“”You got eyes like southern skies and i got lost in them,” she sings. It’s a sly country hook of a line, sincerely sung and heart-piercing.
“I’ve been playing in New Orleans a couple times a year. It’s such a magical place, musically and otherwise,” she said. “Music takes me on the road occasionally, and when it does, I can better enjoy the close knit musical community at home.”
Ms. Doctorow said she feels fortunate to be a part of a thriving music scene on the East End, though she’s seen scenes come and go throughout her career.
“Enjoy it while it lasts,” she said. “I don’t really know what happened in the cosmos, but something did and the music community out here is just thriving. Everybody is supportive of one another.”
Ms. Doctorow will have her CD with her at a full slate of summer shows, including a songwriters in the round session with Inda Eaton and Hugh Prestwood at Riverhead’s Suffolk Theater on Aug. 15.
“It’s going to be on WPKN a week later, like an old fashioned live radio show,” she said.
More information on Caroline Doctorow’s upcoming shows is available on her website here.