By Eric Alper.
Fiery blues, rock and soul songstress Caroline Cotto’s first full album is a musical tribute to her quest for her own individual truth. Before landing permanently in her now home of New Orleans, she spent years soaking up experiences while living in New York, Paris and London, walking the same inspirational paths of her artistic influences, writing her own music and poetry, and playing in downtown bars and clubs. Her album Bayou Sun, out now, is Cotto’s own stunning autobiography, with each track divulging crucial weaves that have formed her life tapestry of faith, love, and self-understanding.
Cotto’s track “Young Girl in the City” takes us to the start of her journey which began in New York City, a city Cotto refers to as the first love of her life. “I wanted to capture the rhythm of New York in my song,” she explains. “I see myself vividly walking up and down the avenue with desire in my soul to make a name for myself in the world. I feel the grit of the sidewalk and footsteps of my heroes. I see the young girl with a guitar performing in cafes rambling through the night with love and passion.”
Her success in musically seizing the sound of New York in “Young Girl in the City” is delightfully enchanting, as pounding heart drum beats from Country Hall of Fame drummer Eddie Bayers seem to thrust our senses directly into the routine of Manhattan’s bustling streets and sidewalks. Ronnie Eades’ – the co-founder of the Muscle Shoals Horns Section - saxophone then provides the illusion of scurrying taxi cabs, as Nelson Blanchard’s piano suggests varying conversations and crowded movements. Cotto’s guitar and soulful voice soon lure us in further with the lyrics “Paint my pain into a starry night/I know, the stars ain’t a dime/But dreams are better in moonlight,” reassuring us that any painful learning experiences here have only made her dreams grow clearer and stronger. As she continues on singing “Radio blasts, I’m free at last/All my tears slip through the sidewalk cracks,” we are made confident that music is the outlet that makes her pain disappear, before she leaves us with the hopeful lines “But I’ll find my way/I’ll find my way/I’ll find my way.”
Cotto is also quick to mention that both “Young Girl in the City’s co-producer, David Hyde plays bass on the song, and “Mystery Ride,” another track from her album, were inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album. “His adventures of rock ‘n’ roll and romance in New Jersey captured my heart” she explains. “I love how Springsteen captures the magic of one night in his music.” Much like “Young Girl in the City”, “Mystery Ride” bursts musically with the excitement of endless possibility and wonder, though this time we are jolted into a shared adventure with someone we love and adore, while Cotto’s lyrics rouse “I see love written on the wind tonight/As we go down and down and down this/Mystery Ride.”
Cotto states that she has a curiosity not only for the capacity of love in the human soul, but also that of suffering. As we head toward the end of the album we hear Caroline Cotto’s solid musical versatility stretched and showcased even further in her track “Awake to Love”, a song that integrates bouncy reggae undertones and saxophone with deeply powerful and provocative lyrics such as “God bless the innocent/They learn from lies/Man throws bombs/In a child’s eyes/Hate grows when one’s asleep/Awake to love on the city streets.”
Cotto addresses the heartbreak that innocent people often end up adjusting themselves due to evil, and that those who close their eyes to violence contribute to a growth of hatred. “‘Awake to Love’ is my song for the world,” she explains. “I remember myself in Audubon Park in New Orleans with my pen and paper looking at my reflection in the water and reflecting on the state of the world. ‘Awake to Love’ is my message to the global consciousness that Love is always the answer in any situation, especially in the face of war and destruction.”
Cotto insists that she has learned from her years of travel and through making this album that faith, daydreaming, and love are her greatest powers. “I daydreamed how I wanted my life to be every day until it was. I still have flashes of that young girl with a guitar and suitcase in hand going into the depths of the unknown riding the path into the Bayou Sun.”
Caroline gives us amazing insight into the making of the album, she tells us,"“Bayou Sun” is my rock ‘n’ roll odyssey. It’s about a young girl leaving New York, living in Paris and London for artistic opportunities and finally finding a home in New Orleans. You reach all the corners of my earth in this album, all the beauty and pain as an artist and woman. I have carried hundreds of songs within me throughout my travels and knew once I arrived in New Orleans, I was ready to record material. When I first arrived in New Orleans, I met with a psychic and she told me to contact David Hyde for help in the music scene. His name rolled through my mind for many years and I reached out to him in 2021. We then started working on my full length album. He co-produced, played bass and did horn arrangements. I would travel back and forth to Baton Rouge, Louisiana from New Orleans via trains and cars. In Baton Rouge, we spent many days and nights recording the material with Nelson Blanchard at his studio, Techno Sound Studio.
The first love of my life was New York. Eternity rides up and down the subways and straight into your heart. “Young Girl in the City” describes my time growing up in New York and playing in downtown bars and clubs. I was inspired to write "Young Girl in the City” by Springsteen’s “Born to Run” album. His adventures of rock ‘n’ roll and romance in New Jersey captured my heart - and I wanted to capture the rhythm of New York in my song. I see myself vividly walking up and down the avenue with desire in my soul to make a name for myself in the world. I feel the grit of the sidewalk and footsteps of my heroes. I see the young girl with a guitar performing in cafes rambling through the night with love and passion. The song features Country Hall of Fame Drummer Eddie Bayers, co-founder of the Muscle Shoals Horns Section, Ronnie Eades on saxophone and Nelson Blanchard on piano.
Mystery Ride is also another Springsteen influenced track. I love how Springsteen captures the magic of one night in his music. Mystery Ride describes a night of endless possibility and wonder with someone you love. The vessel of that adventure being a car that can take you anywhere you desire. This song features Country Hall of Fame Drummer, Eddie Bayers and 504 horns saxophonist, Jason Parfait. Nelson Blanchard also continues his brilliant work on piano and organ.
“Awake to Love” is my song for the world. I remember myself in Audubon Park in New Orleans with my pen and paper looking at my reflection in the water and reflecting on the state of the world. “Awake to Love” is my message to the global consciousness that Love is always the answer in any situation especially in the face of war and destruction.
“Stay” is inspired by soul music. I have always loved soul music, especially the burn of a soul ballad. I remember listening to Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and that was it for me. I wrote the song when I was 18 years old in New York. The track was sent to Country Hall of Fame drummer Eddie Bayers in Nashville and horn section is Ronnie Eades, co-founder of the Muscle Shoals Horn Section and Lacy Blackledge and Chris Belleau.
The three things I always have with me are my “Pen.Paper.Lipstick.” I wrote the song when I was in London - and I have performed it all over the world. I never leave the house without my pen and notebook-it is my constant and feels like a dear companion. I never know when the inspiration will strike - and I have to obey the call of the muse. Inspired by the era of swing music and big bands, “Pen.Paper.Lipstick” features Chris Layton of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble on drums. He also plays on the title track, “Bayou Sun.” It was a full circle moment for me as I have been inspired by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble for years. I took a 6 am flight to Austin and arrived at Ron Flynt’s Jumping Dog Studio on a beautiful, spring day. It was a wonderful experience to track the songs and talk about the blues, Texas and our mutual love for Ford Mustang- I feature the car in my Cherry Red music video.
I grew up reading classic litearture. I wrote “Come Closer” after reading “Lolita” for the second time as a teenager. I always go back to the classics for inspiration. “Heaven is in my Hands'' is the concluding track and describes my lessons on my odyssey. It has hints of psychedelia and backwards organ inspired by the production of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced.”
My greatest power is love, faith and daydreaming. I daydreamed how I wanted my life to be everyday until it was. I still have flashes of that young girl with a guitar and suitcase in hand going into the depths of the unknown riding the path into the Bayou Sun."
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