“I know it can’t last,” sings Catie Curtis on the opening song of her latest album, Stretch Limousine on Fire. It feels like a look back, a measurement of life and a near 20-year career in music.
“I can’t say that that was deliberately what I was doing, but I am of an age where that would be appropriate,” agrees Curtis, talking by phone from a visit with her in-laws in Ohio. “There is more awareness of a beginning, middle and end of life.”
“I think that’s the wonderful part of recognizing that there are stages in life and you can’t take yourself quite as seriously when you know these things are temporary. And I know that sounds trite but when you understand it — you do take a deep breath and realize that there is no such thing as ongoing perfection — or perfection to begin with.”
Characteristically, there’s also a lot of joy in the collection of songs, released last fall. High points include “I Do” and “Wedding Band,” a couple of tunes written about life with Liz Marshall, her partner of 12 years, and domestic bliss with their two children.
Even the dark moments are tinged with a bit of glee. The title track describes an incident that evoked a bit of schadenfreude from Curtis — a burning limo viewed from the back of a traffic jam. “I guess it’s really just a small thing, but it made me feel so good,” she sings at song’s end.
“I was on the Mass Pike, driving to a show, not a very big deal, and I wasn’t feeling well, didn’t want to be driving there. I saw a stretch limousine just at the very end of a fire. The flames were calming down and this limousine was just sitting there on the side of the road. I was thinking, oh, somebody had a bad day.”
She chuckles at the memory. “It was like, all right. I could have been going to a much more prestigious show and have something like this happen, and it just helped me to suck it up and do what I had to do that night,” she says. “There is just something meaningful when you get to work and do something that you love. I started writing the song right at that point in the car.”
But it’s the sweet and tender moments in her work that garner accolades like the one received from The New Yorker; the magazine called her a “folk goddess” a few years back. Critic Scott Alarik once praised Curtis by noting, “any fool can write a love-gone-wrong song; it takes a real genius to write a love-gone-right one.”
She also has a unique ability to write in a way that makes clear the object of her affection is another woman. “You Look Good in My Shirt” isn’t something many women would say to a man. Curtis laughs a bit at this assessment. “Well, part of it is I am just so bad at hiding things. I didn’t even realize until you said it that it was that obvious,” she says. “I mean, you could stretch it — maybe my cool football shirt would look good on a guy?”
Curtis can’t imagine writing any other way. “It would just take so much effort for me to try to disguise myself,” she says. “The way I write is pretty direct. I don’t feel like it was a conscious choice to write in a certain way. But I do think I made a choice to not get in my own way, to not prevent myself from writing the lines that work for me. As I would perform them, it seemed like they were connecting with people.”
Her live shows are evenly divided between solo appearances and playing with a small band. At her upcoming show at Alpine Grove in Hollis, she may bring a cellist; the details are still being worked out. She enjoys working with a larger ensemble and stretching out in the studio, but on stage, belief in a song is the most important element for Curtis.
“One of my role models is Dar Williams, because I always see in her a confidence in her story and in her song; what she’s singing/saying and how she’s connecting with the audience. I always try to do that same thing,” she says. “What people are really there for is to connect to the story and to connect the story to their lives, and I feel I can accomplish that with just playing guitar and vocal … so that the song stands on its own.”