Photo Credit: Angelina Castillo
David Ramirez with Caroline Spence
The Ludlow Garage, 323 Ludlow Ave, Cincinnati, OH
7pm doors, 8:30pm show, Buy
Having won numerous songwriting awards from industry mainstays like the Kerrville Folk Festival, Caroline Spence has long been regarded as a best-kept secret in her scene, earning admiration from esteemed artists like Miranda Lambert and from her own fellow writers in the Nashville underground. Her debut for Rounder Records, 2019’s Mint Condition follows Spades and Roses—a 2017 release praised by American Songwriter as “an album of stunning beauty and lasting impact.” In bringing Mint Condition to life, Spence worked with producer Dan Knobler (Lake Street Dive, Erin Rae) and recorded at his Nashville studio Goosehead Palace, landing a guest appearance from Emmylou Harris and enlisting musicians from Spence’s previous projects and live band. “It’s wonderful to step into a room full of people who already know me,” says Spence. “They have this unspoken understanding of my instincts, so it made the whole process really comfortable and collaborative.”
The kinetic energy of that collaboration infuses all of Mint Condition, an album centered on Spence’s crystalline vocals and finespun melodies that soar and drift and sometimes gallop. Spence’s affinity for Harris traces back to when her aunt worked at Asylum Records around the time that Harris recorded Wrecking Ball—an essential part of the soundtrack to Spence’s childhood. Born into an exceptionally music-loving family, the Charlottesville native started writing her own songs at age six and playing out in her hometown at 15. In 2015 she made her full-length debut with Somehow, a self-released effort featuring appearances by Anderson East, Erin Rae, and Andrew Combs (who later recorded one of Spence’s songs). With her debut winning the attention of Miranda Lambert (who posted about Somehow on her social media), Spence went on to deliver Spades and Roses and gain acclaim from outlets like NPR (who noted that the album “occupies that Nashville sound equally at home in honky-tonks and bedrooms”). In 2018—after working as a decidedly independent artist her whole career—Spence shared the early mixes for Mint Condition with Rounder Records, and soon signed with the label. “It feels really natural to come to them with this record, which is such a complete expression of who I am,” says Spence.
Throughout Mint Condition, Spence shows the ever-expanding depth of her musicality, with the album encompassing everything from the full-tilt jangle-pop of “What You Don’t Know” to the stark atmospherics of “Sometimes a Woman Is an Island” to the ghostly folk of “Who Are You.” And on the heart-walloping “Wait on the Wine,” her tender vocals take on an entirely new power. “I wrote that one a few years ago, not ever thinking my voice could pull it off,” says Spence. “But the voice is a muscle, and I’ve put this muscle to work singing all around the country. Now I have that confidence and strength to belt the way I don’t think I could have when I was 23.”
For Spence, that growth comes not only from spending countless hours on the road, but from purposefully preserving her truest intentions as a musician and artist. “At the end of the day, songwriting is what matters most to me and brings me the most joy,” she says. “I’ve worked hard to try to keep that fire going, and to protect that thing that made me want to write in the first place. I’m always just thinking about my 16-year-old self alone in the bedroom, because she knew what she was doing without anyone having to tell her. She’s the one who got me to where I am now.”