Violet – Cait Cuneo
Cait Cuneo brings New York glitz to the Pittsburgh music scene with her debut EP, Violet. The disc is bursting with high-class talent, understated but stylish instrumentation, and smooth soul. She exudes elegance from the glamorous promo shots to the slight and tight R&B grooves backing her vocals. And those vocals! Cait’s commanding yet feather light voice is reminiscent of Sade but her style mixes smooth R&B and elements of hip-hop and soul to create an original and wholly alluring sound.
R&B doesn’t have much of a root in the Steel City but Cuneo’s unique style incorporates the strengths of the city and its history to create a sound that is both distinctly Pittsburgh and distinctly hers. The first track, “Violet,” has Cuneo crooning “It’s hard enough when we /put the hardness on our selves / but then we have to hear the chatter from everybody else / we get down from our own heartbreak / there is so much pain an individual can take” before she breaks into the hip-hop chorus that has her skipping over a solid bass groove and groggy horns with impressive lyrical flow. The song’s message of self-empowerment and confidence is bracing. With the silhouette of Pittsburgh’s abandoned steel mills, its period of depression, and its triumphant transformation into a center of medical research, technology, and art as a backdrop of her music, Cait’s cool poise is uniquely stirring.
Cuneo’s narration of hardships and hope is presented with an honesty and heart that impresses but it’s the confidence reflected in her voice and style that is most striking. Cuneo’s time in the band Black Coffee is obvious in the maturity displayed throughout the album. Even weaker songs such as “One Face” are presented with an unwavering confidence and, as a result, stand out from other R&B. “One Face” odd start-stop outro jars the listener and distracts from another of her hip-hop passages. It’s telling that the only criticism of “One Face” is that her arrangement gets in the way of her strengths. Cuneo’s only missteps of the album are knowing what she wants to do but getting confused on how to do it.
Cuneo is strongest when she plays to her talent of mingling the roughness of hip-hop with R&B and soul’s glamour. The single “Truth” takes the listener from the plush instrumentation and jazzy vocals of the lounge to the streets with the chorus’ swaggering two-step and Cuneo’s husky boasting. The song’s dynamism is fascinating and sorely missing from the next track’s straight R&B. Cuneo has the talent and heart to sing straight R&B but “My Eyes” weak chorus obstructs the song’s spectacular piano soloing and brassy backing. Cuneo’s an remarkable arranger but “My Eyes” chorus is one of the only instances on the album that her words don’t meet the high standards of her music and everything suffers for it.
The last track, “Too Slow,” glides across immaculate piano and gentle horns like a skater over ice. Cueno’s lyrics and chorus of “hurry up, girl / you’re moving too slow / hurry / hurry / I got more than what you see / I know I deserve to be happy” neatly encapsulates the album’s message of empowerment, hope, and victory. The track’s vocals and intricate, refined instrumentation deftly demonstrate Cuneo’s abilities. It’s a traditional R&B jam but one that is performed with an expert touch. Cait Cuneo’s Violet is a strong debut from a confident, creative and sophisticated singer.