Singer-songwriter Caroline Keys | Mean to Stay

New album Mean to Stay is a a treatise on settling down versus wanderlust

New Albums
Caroline Keys corrals many fine musicians for her solo debut, Mean to Stay.
Caroline Keys: Mean to Stay

Longtime Missoula singer-songwriter Caroline Keys has just released her solo debut, sort of. The concept and songs are all hers except “Snow,” co-written with Nate Biehl.

But solo schmolo. As is her wont, Keys credits the players for making the album happen – in this case, the LaneSplitters. She’s played with all of them at one time or another.

Keys plays guitar and banjo and sings lead; other pickers are Biehl, electric guitar and keyboards; Jeff Turman, upright bass and fiddle; Adam Seltzer, keyboards; Gibson Hartwell, pedal steel; and Matt Tipton, drums, keyboards, and trombone. Everybody sings except Hartwell and Tipton.

She’s distilled the musical experiences from her many bands into a treatise on settling down versus wanderlust. In the title tune, Keys stretches out the word “stay,” rooting it in place.

There are ballads, country dancers, some old-time banjer pickin,’ gobs of pedal steel, and lots of cool harmonies on the artist’s melodic tunes. Keys has honed her vocal technique over the years, giving her alto voice great control and range, and she sings in her upper register with ease.

“Back to Hungry Horse” is a nifty instrumental, with banjo frailing, surf-guitar effects and fiddle-sawing. I like it!

Keys channels Loretta Lynn’s sass on the rockabilly shuffle, “Two Story House,” and “Tune for T” is about a wayward youth who runs afoul of the law, written for a friend who works in the juvenile court system. Tom-tom percussion highlights the lyric; it’s a compelling piece.

“Nothing Better” is wistful, an unrequited love song with lovely three-part harmony on the chorus, and “Fort Benton” is a hoot – a politician has to drink in another town for some peace and quiet. “A Grainy Taste,” about friendship, combines the banjo with the deep sound of a cello being bowed.

Give this one a listen. Visit

– Mariss McTucker