Review: Caitlyn Smith The Great Pretender Tour with Brandon Ratcliff

Caitlyn Smith has a fascinating story to tell. On Saturday night, she invited us along on her journey from a small town in Minnesota to Nashville’s Music Row. With dreams of becoming a performer, she soon found the doors to the recording industry fortress were locked. She eventually settled for “Plan B,” as she called it, to write songs for other artists.  

Smith opened with “High,” a song she wrote with (and for) Miley Cyrus who recorded it in 2020. She took us back to 2013 and a late-night writing session with her (now) husband that yielded “Wasting All These Tears,” a platinum-selling hit for Cassadee Pope. Smith then played another hit, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” a song Megan Trainor and John Legend turned into a Billboard #1 chart-topper.

Smith, in the third trimester of her pregnancy, played with great passion as she moved from keyboards to acoustic guitar, dazzling us with her catalog of remarkable music. She told us that despite her Plan B success as a songwriter, she still longed to perform her own songs. After another run at the Nashville record labels, she finally received her first “yes” with her appropriately titled song “This Town Is Killing Me.” After several years of grinding it out, she finally landed a recording contract. 

Caitlyn Smith. Photo by John Nelson

Smith has since recorded three full-length albums. Her latest record, High & Low, earned her an Academy of Country Music (ACM) award nomination for New Female Artist of the Year. An odd category, considering her decade of success in country music. 

With a limitless vocal range and an arsenal of beautiful genre-fluid songs, she played us a nice selection from her impressive catalog. She soulfully crooned “Before You Called Me Baby,” the first track from her 2018 debut album Starfire. She played “Mississippi,” a song from her new album that features superstar Garth Brooks on backing vocals. For Saturday night’s version, opener Brandon Ratcliff served as a fine stand-in for Brooks. Smith covered Brooks’ “Tacoma,” except Smith actually wrote it, so technically she covered herself. I really liked the country-pop gem, “I Can’t,” from her 2020 release Supernova and her 2023 single “Lately,” a catchy and relatable tune about missing family and friends during the pandemic.  

Near the end of her set, she performed a medley of Carole King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” in homage to artists who inspire her. She covered both songs so well, I wished it wasn’t a medley. Finally, she stepped down to the floor to serenade her new (and old) fans with “Contact High.”

What an amazing night communing with an incredibly talented artist who connected with her audience in a very personal way. I was lucky, along with a few other fans, to meet and listen to her play two tunes from her new album before the show. These kinds of magical nights don’t happen often, but when they do, it’s usually at The State Room.

Brandon Ratcliff opened the evening with the aptly titled “Family Business.” He’s a rising Nashville artist with his own story to tell. Born into the American roots music tradition, his mother, aunt, uncles, and grandfather were members of the Grammy-winning bluegrass band, The Cox Family. He often toured with the family band as a child, but always ended up back home in rural Louisiana. His 2023 album, Tale of Two Towns, catalogs his personal journey from a small town to the Nashville Metropolis. He played us an acoustic version of some of the record’s highlights, including the title track, “Grow Apart,” and “Where I’m Coming From.”  He played 10 songs in all and even tossed in a fun rendition of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me feel.” He ended his fine set with “Always Moving On.” Ratcliff is an artist on the move, and it was a pleasure seeing him at this early stage in his career.

Who: Caitlyn Smith w/ Brandon Ratcliff

What: The Great Pretender Tour

Where: The State Room

When: Saturday, September 9, 2023


John Nelson
John Nelson
John Nelson covers the local music scene for Salt Lake magazine. He is a 20-year veteran of Uncle Sam’s Flying Circus with a lifelong addiction to American roots music, live music venues, craft beer and baseball.

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