“There’s no cure for being young,” Cecilia Castleman sings on her wonderfully titled slow-burner “You Go Thru Girls Like You Go Thru Cigarettes.” It’s a deceptively complex lyric that sums up both a feeling we’ve all had at some point in our lives and the 21-year-old songwriter herself.
But while Castleman may lament the pitfalls of youth, she proves to be wise beyond her years on her self-titled debut album for Glassnote Records. Produced by Don Was, it’s a stunning collection of songs that highlight everything the Tennessee-born artist does well: lyrics that convey all the intimacy of a diary; a dynamic, honeyed voice that moves effortlessly between a coo and a lilt; and guitar playing that impressed no less than John Mayer.
“My album is for everyone — for the guitar players, the singers, the thinkers, the dancers, and the dreamers,” Castleman says. “But first and foremost, it’s a musicians record.”
Castleman, who plays all the guitars on the album, isn’t lying. Her debut LP hearkens back to the organic magic of Seventies recording studios, where classic albums by Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, and Tom Petty were all born. For her sessions, Don Was recruited his own cast of legends: bassist Pino Palladino (The Who), drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. (Paul McCartney), and Petty’s keyboardist in the Heartbreakers, Benmont Tench. Bluegrass great Alison Krauss contributes strings to one track.
“I was around all of these musicians that I’ve admired and I learned everything I could from them,” says Castleman. “I knew that I wanted Don to produce my record since I was 15. I used to see his name on the back of my favorite CDs.”
Castleman was fed a steady diet of important music by her parents, both of them musicians. “My mom would take me to Best Buy and buy me CDs, show me documentaries, and take me to shows,” she says. “She brought to my attention a lot of what I listen to now” — like the Beatles, Brian Wilson, Fleetwood Mac, J.J. Cale, and Bonnie Raitt.
When Castleman’s mother and father divorced when she was 11, she worked through her emotions with a guitar and a pen. “I started playing guitar when I was 6 and started writing songs when I was 11,” she says. The oldest song on the record, ‘I Don’t Need to Love You,’ I wrote when I was 15. I was 20 when I completed the record — so that’s five years of a young girl’s life in songs.”
She compares her writing process to sending envelopes to herself over and over again. “It’s reopening and sticking some stacked pile high in the corner of my room, adjacent to myself so I wouldn’t forget about them. You’re just waiting for the letter of acceptance — the one that hits the feeling you’ve always been chasing,” she says. “That’s when you have a good song.”
While the majority of the tracks on her album are solo compositions, Castleman wrote a few songs with Daniel Tashian (Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour), including the first single “Lonely Nights.” The hypnotic track emerged as soon as Tashian handed Castleman a Telecaster.
“I played that lick at the beginning and it just went from there,” she says. “I had a lot of lonely nights, especially during the pandemic. I didn’t really grasp the meaning of what I was writing until it was finished. But I realized it was totally about the time we’re going through right now.”
“It’s Alright” opens with an equally definitive guitar lead from Castleman, who sings about fleeing a dysfunctional relationship. “It’s a get-out-of-dodge song! Let me go out on my own and I’ll be fine, ya know?” she says. “A lot of this record can sound like I’m talking to other people or about other people, but I’m really talking to myself.”
On “You Go Thru Girls Like You Go Thru Cigarettes,” she sums up the challenges of relationships like only a gifted songwriter can. Over a transcendent synth bend and vibrant drums, Castleman uses a metaphor of a pack-a-day habit to describe a guy who was seemingly always with a different girl.
“He smokes a lot — one cigarette for as many girls as he’s dated,” she says of the character. “But relationships aren’t something you can just snub out in an ashtray. The first line says ‘I wish that I could drive away from here because there’s no use for me anymore,’ and in the second verse I realize ‘there is no cure for being young.’ I think a lot of people just have to go through that phase.”
Castleman will be the first to admit she’s still going through phases. Her own music, however, is timeless. This is an album that can capture not just a moment, but the souls of generations.
“All I want to do is connect with people. I write about things that are important to me, but I hope that this record can be a shelter for people,” she says, “because it sure is for me.”