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.

The Voice - Season 6Coastal 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 Artist
A 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 Miss Alabama cover.jpgCary 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

As seen kickin' it on 'The Voice', Cary Laine's red boots can be yours via kickstarter

A year after making a splash on "The Voice," Coastal Alabama singer Cary Laine is offering fans a few pieces of that experience - and a chance to support her effort to record a debut album.

Laine has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for "Miss Alabama," a debut album that she hopes to release later this year. The goal is $15,000; the money will help pay for recording, packaging, duplication and promotion of the album. The just-launched drive continues through April 8.

As is common with Kickstarter drives, Laine has offered some premiums to help motivate donors. Those who give $5 or more will get "a sneak peek early download of one of the songs" ahead of the album's release. Donors who give more can claim prizes such as handwritten lyric sheets, private Skype concerts, a house concert or the chance to visit the studio during a recording session.


Fans who caught Laine's audition on "The Voice" also have the chance to grab a couple of very distinctive mementos of that occasion. For a pledge of $1,000, Laine is offering the turquoise necklace and bracelet she wore during her blind audition, when she turned the heads of all four celebrity judges. A pledge of $3,000 or more wins the "infamous" red boots she wore during the same appearance. (Laine was recruited by Adam Levine for his team, but was knocked out of the lineup during an early battle round. At the time she was based in Wyoming, but since then has moved back to the Gulf Coast.)

"This album is going to be a really special project, and I would love for all of you to be a part of it," Laine says in the pitch video for the drive. In accompanying material, she says that she will be working with Coastal Alabama artists Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee Crawford, of groups Sugarcane Jane and Willie Sugarcapps, at their Admiral Bean Studio in Loxley.

Kickstarter uses an all-or-nothing funding model: If pledges do not hit the specified goal by the drive's deadline, donors are not billed for their pledges. For updates on Laine's activities, visit

~Lawrence Specker, Mobile Press Register

Battle round ends Alabama native Cary Laine's run on 'The Voice'
The-Voice-2014-Cary-Laine-Sam-Behymer-TraePattonNBC.jpgCary Laine, left, and Sam Behymer listen to some advice from Aloe Blacc during rehearsals on "The Voice." (Trae Patton/NBC)

Despite her impressive entrance earlier in the season, Alabama native Cary Laine’s run on “The Voice” came to an end in Tuesday night’s episode.

It was the final night for a series of “battle rounds,” and Laine appeared in the first of the evening’s six elimination battles. Judge Adam Levine pitted the 28-year-old country singer from Citronelle against Sam Behymer, a 25-year-old indie-rock vocalist from Morgan Mill, Texas. He challenged them to sing “Give Me Love,” an Ed Sheeran pop ballad, with the intention of pushing each woman out of her comfort zone.

“Where they come from and what they’re used to doesn’t apply,” said Levine. “And that’s a very cool exercise for them.”

Though Laine had wowed all four judges – Levine plus Usher, Shakira and Blake Shelton – in her initial appearance, that didn’t help her here. Levine and assistant coach Aloe Blacc challenged both her and Behymer on technique. They also called for Laine to bring more emotion out in her performance. Laine expressed respect for Behymer’s originality, while the younger woman was impressed by Laine’s power.

Both singers were nervous before taking the stage: Laine said she wasn’t ready to leave the competition and head back to her current home in Wyoming, and Behymer said she wasn’t sure how she’d pay the bills if music didn’t work out.

The performance was a difficult call. Levine’s three judges noted some flaws in each singer’s performance and gave Levine very little guidance. He himself said the match was near-equal, and that he was “making my decision based on what speaks to me in the moment.” He picked Behymer.

Laine thanked Levine for stepping out of his own comfort zone to give her a chance, and headed for the exit. A steal by Usher didn’t materialize. “I thought about it for a second, but I’m looking for something very specific for Team Usher,” he said afterward.

Supporters praised Laine afterward via Facebook and Twitter. Via Twitter, Laine thanked many for their compliments and promised “I won’t stop … this is only the beginning.”

The Battles: Kaleigh Glanton over Noah Lis (Shelton); Ryan Whyte Maloney over Cali Tucker (Shelton); Chistina Grimmie over Joshua Howard (Levine); Kristen Merlin over Lindsay Bruce (Shakira); and Emily B. over Cierra Mickens (Shakira).

Steals: Usher took Cierra Mickens from Team Shakira in the final first-round steal. 

What’s next: Another round of battles, with a different format including the appearance of Coldplay singer Chris Martin in an advisory role. The action resumes at 7 p.m. Central time on Monday, March 31, on NBC.

~Lawrence Specker, Mobile Press Register

Alabama's Cary Laine makes grand entrance on 'The Voice'

It’s official: Coastal Alabama native Cary Laine is in the running on the newest season of “The Voice,” after a head-turning entrance that prompted intense competition between the show’s judges.

Laine was the last contestant featured in Tuesday night’s episode, the second of the new season. Before she took the stage for her “blind audition,” viewers learned a little bit about her: She’s from Citronelle, 28, married and the mother of a young son. Her husband works in the oil and gas industry, and about a year and a half ago they moved from Alabama to Wyoming, where the opportunities were better in his field but not so great for an aspiring singer. 

Humble about her chances, she was hoping to get at least one of the four celebrity judges to spin around for a look at her. That would “validate the lifelong dream to make something of my music career,” she said.

She needn’t have worried. Her song choice for her audition was The Band Perry’s strutting country hit “Better Dig Two,” and her punchy delivery immediately caught the judges’ ears. Adam Levine hit his “I Want You” button on the second line, followed fairly quickly by Blake Shelton and Shakira. Usher listened carefully for a few moments before joining in, putting Laine in the select club of contenders who’ve gotten unanimous approval.

The jockeying between the judges was animated. Usher asked if she’d prefer a pair of sneakers to her fancy red boots. Levine jumped up and guided her to his throne. “I want her to be comfortable too,” he said. “She should have a seat on my big red leather chair.” 

Though Usher and Shakira seemed to have strong interest, it quickly came down to Levine and Shelton. Shelton stressed his Nashville credibility and pointed to his track record with Cassadee Pope: He coached her to a win in Season 3 of “The Voice,” and since then she’s had a No. 1 country album. Levine, who’s better known for pop, countered that Laine would be the only female country singer on his team and would get special attention.

“Don’t you think a girl like me would understand you better than these two jerks?” asked Shakira.

Laine picked Levine, to the evident surprise of Shakira, not to mention her own son, who’d been rooting for Shelton.

“Stealing a country artist from Blake has its own special feeling. I enjoy it so much,” said Levine afterward.

“Poor kid,” said Shelton, who might yet have a chance to steal Laine back. “Cary’s a really good singer, she could be a threat, and Adam did a good job with selling himself to her,” he added later.

“I felt like Adam really wanted me on his team,” Laine said. “He really fought for me. So, I picked Adam.”

The blind auditions will continue through the show’s next few episodes, until each judge has a full roster of contenders. Then the inevitable elimination rounds begin. The next episode airs at 7 p.m. Central time Monday on NBC.

~Lawrence Specker, Mobile Press Register