Lunch With the Artist: Cary Laine Chooses the Causeway
Cary Laine barely gets inside the door of the Bluegill Restaurant before she stops for a hug with a staff member. Then another.
Then another, before we're seated out back with a view of the stage where she performs about once a month and, beyond it, the edge of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta under overcast skies. These aren't quick little arm hugs, either, they're full on, stop you in your tracks, it's-so-good-to-see-you-how-have-you-been-doing hugs.
Coastal Alabama singer-songwriter Cary Laine made a splash in season 6 of "The Voice," with a debut that piqued the interest of all four celebrity judges. (Tyler Golden/NBC)
No wonder she picked this place. "The people who work here take time to get to know you," she says.
Laine reckons she first performed here in 2010, not long before the formerly independent venue became part of the locally owned Cooper Restaurants company. She opened for singer-songwriter Shawn Mullins at a benefit for a pet rescue operation, and came away with an invitation to play again the next week.
She's covered a lot of ground since then, winning national attention in 2014 with an all-too-short run on "The Voice." In her debut, she prompted all four celebrity judges to take a look. Adam Levine won the scuffle and claimed Laine for his team, only to pick another singer in the first battle round.
Laine can look back on that with appreciation now. But more on that in a minute. First, it's time for lunch.
Lunch with the ArtistA new series
Introducing "Lunch with the Artist," a new series featuring some of the Mobile Bay Area's most creative people, sharing some of their favorite dishes ... and dishing on what they've been up to lately.
What she ordered: After hearing the day's specials, Laine asks for her usual. She explains that "the usual" isn't always the same thing, but the staff knows her tastes. "They normally just kind of know me and they know what I like," she says. "They never steer me wrong. They never do."
Today, "the usual" means blackened redfish with grilled veggies. But Laine starts out with an order of fried green tomatoes topped with crawfish tails in a creamy herb sauce. And do you know what? We could stop right there. Laine shares a bite of the tomatoes and their tartness cuts right through the grayness of the day, and the rich sauce balances the sharpness without coming anywhere close to drowning it out. After an appetizer like this, you could leave happy and call it a win.
The writer, meanwhile, starts with a cup of crab and corn bisque followed by blackened mahi-mahi with fries. Because if your fish isn't fried, you can get fries without feeling guilty about it, right? The bisque is so thick you could serve it with a scoop, like mashed potatoes, and rich without being overly sweet. The mahi-mahi is nicely done, with enough blackened seasoning to give it some punch but not enough to overwhelm the fish. Laine allows that her buttered-up vegetables taste a lot less healthy than they look.
What she's been up to lately? What comes after a whirlwind ride on a top-rated TV talent competition? For many, shell-shock. Laine savors the positives.
"I learned a lot," she says. "I learned a lot about who I am as an artist, I learned a lot about who I am as a person."
"You learn real quick who you are and who you are not," she says. "I learned just a lot about how thick my skin was, or could be when I needed it to be ... People are brave behind those computer screens."
She also made some lifelong friends "Voice" competitors, and at least one of them, fellow Alabamian Robert Lee, has become a collaborator. They've performed and recorded together since meeting through the show.
Cary Laine says "Miss Alabama" is a departure for her, a move away from radio country to a more independent style that includes Americana and other genres. She plans for the album to see general release in 2016.
Speaking of recording: Last fall, Laine held a successful $15,000 Kickstarter drive to fund work on a post-"Voice" album titled "Miss Alabama." She's going out on a limb: Instead of the straight-ahead country that was her forte, she's ventured into rootsier, more Americana-flavored territory. It's a big change, but she says it feels right – and she feels that the recent chart-topping success of Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton shows that she's headed in the right direction.
"It's my first full album and it's very much different than my last EP. It's much more organic," she says. "I want it to sound like me."
She recorded under the supervision of the multitalented Anthony Crawford at Admiral Bean Studio in Baldwin County. "He played a lot on it," she says. "Will Kimbrough played on a few songs."
"It's not mainstream country," she says. Isbell and Stapleton are models, she says: "not every song sounds the same ... They give the song what it needs."
"I fulfilled all my Kickstarter orders, it's finished," she says. She hopes for a general release in the first quarter of 2016.
What has she been watching/reading/listening to? "I'm re-reading 'To Kill a Mockingbird' because I want to read 'Go Set a Watchman,'" Laine says. "You notice more, as a parent, Atticus' side of the story."
TV infomercials about a certain bygone variety show caught the eye of her 11-year-old son, Cameron, and his grandparents gave him a DVD set. "We're watching 'Hee-Haw,'" Laine confesses.
As for music, Laine says she likes to come out to the BlueGill even when she's not playing, to hear others. "There's always good music here," she says. "Dale Drinkard plays here every Friday [at 11 a.m.] and I love him to pieces."
Thoughts or recommendations on the local scene? "Lord have mercy, we are so blessed in the talent we have around here. There's something in the water." Laine's quick picks include Dale Drinkard, Brandon and Shea White and The Mulligan Brothers. In the bigger picture, she appreciates the community vibe of the Mobile music scene. "It's like a family," she says. "A really dysfunctional but cool family."
Where does she go for hope? "Sometimes hope comes out of the blue," she says. "When Jason Isbell hit No. 1, it was kind of like, 'This direction I'm going makes sense, it can work.'"
- Lawrence Specker, Mobile Press Register