Caleb Caudle | Better Hurry Up | (Baldwin County Public Records)
4 out of 5 stars
If you’re looking to create dark, swampy, groove based Americana, you can’t do better than taking notes from Leon Russell, J.J. Cale, Dr. John, Little Feat and The Band.
That was Caleb Caudle’s intention as he headed into Johnny Cash’s Cash Cabin recording facility outside of Nashville to record his eighth (!) studio set. It helps to employ musicians who have lived that sound too. So Caudle and producer John Jackson (Jayhawks) invited players who have worked with everyone from Willie Nelson to Wilco, Kacey Musgraves and Dan Auerbach to nail what can be an elusive vibe generated only when all the elements dovetail. Backing vocalists Elizabeth Cook, John Paul White, Courtney Marie Andrews and Gary Louris are the cherries on top of this rustic pie.
These sessions might have run the risk of too many cooks, but the results show that it was closer to a perfect storm, all coalescing around eleven rugged Caudle originals. His flinty vinegar and whisky tinged country vocals also are integral to pushing this music into the shadowy regions he aims for. Tunes like the gritty “Monte Carlo” (using the automobile model and its casino connotations to describe how he dealt with life’s uncertainties) and the slide guitar grease of “Feelin’ Free” where Caudle tells of his life chasing after the titular sensation (“It’s true I really ever only wanted to be/A slave to things that’ll set me free”) set the bleaker mood for reflective songs with universal concepts.
The opening title track deals with life on the endless road. It might be a clichéd subject but Caudle finds a fresh approach to describe the musician’s life (“Know it’s just as much about the places you go/As it is about the ones you don’t”) as the slow, slimy vibe reflects those words.
Only one cut breaks the four minute mark but nothing feels rushed or squeezed into bite-sized pieces for easier consumption. Still, any of these 11 selections would sound terrific emerging from the radio, especially when traversing the back roads of America that Caleb knows well. Caudle’s lyrics like “Just being born is a long shot/Don’t forget the reward is in the risk…” are pithy and sharp, inserted around superbly crafted, lived-in melodies and played with an easy, sometimes dim yet deliberate pace.
Mission accomplished then on what is arguably the singer/songwriter’s finest release;one that captures the heart of Americana with grace, subtlety and the dusky beauty of Caleb Caudle’s iconic influences.
Johnny Cash would be proud.