As Mike Nesmith said back in the days, “and the hits just keep on comin.” Nesmith was back then an unrecognised country music pioneer, a pop musician finding his roots and accidentally leading some folk into the world of country music. Here Caleb Caudle stakes his claim to be the latest in the run of young guns who are similarly revitalising the genre. Caudle, from North Carolina, gained some acclaim for his 2014 album, Paint Another Layer on My Heart. On Carolina Ghost, recorded following a return to his homeland and a decision to give up alcohol (18 months clear now), Caudle digs deeper into his country vein, the music creamy with pedal steel, gurgling guitars and a Southern bedrock of organ and piano.
This new wave of country music is a multi headed hydra. Some head into Hank territory, some dig Waylon and Willie while others hark back to the Countrypolitan sound. Caudle seems to be divining the smooth radio friendly sound of 80’s acts such as Randy Travis and George Strait with a nod to the seventies in the shape of Gram Parsons and the Eagles (back when Bernie Leadon was a member and before they cryogenically altered their nasal passages). As such some folk might think that this is somewhat lightweight music but a couple of listens allows one to see some muscle in here, lyrically Caudle is darker than one suspects while the music, sweet as it is, is a honey trap.
The trap opens with the honeyed melody of Gotta Be with Brett Resnick on pedal steel to the fore as the song sweeps along as Caudle sings with some yearning of his perfect lover. He then muscles up on the gritty Piedmont Sky, a song that seems to about his travails over the years singing,”waiting on an agent to call my number,” before heading back to his hometown. Carolina Ghost is sublime, a whisp of a song carried along on gliding pedal steel and subtle keyboards, Caudle hymning his native soil as he recalls earlier days with a hint of mystery. Broken Hallelujah flies on a similar breeze, again the song flows sweetly, the guitars just so fine, the pedal steel keening expertly over a cracking rhythm section as Caudle begs for a second chance. Midway through there’s some very fine duelling between the pedal steel and guitar, elevating the song somewhat.
There’s some honky tonk swing on the broken love song Wasted Thursday while Dobro dominates on the classic melody of White Doves Wings, the strained teardrop of Steel & Stone and the closing valediction of The Reddest Rose, a song that recalls John Stewart in his prime. In the midst of this feast Caudle offers the most heartfelt moment of the album, the bruised ballad that is Tuscaloosa. Here Caudle comes across like an Alabama Springsteen as he captures the languid flow of the South while he also evokes memories of Joe Ely and his Flatlanders pals flying into Dallas.
Carolina Ghost has the rebel sense of 70’s rockers discovering country music and finding out that radio folk actually liked it while at the same time it provokes a sense that Caudle, like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson is rescuing country music from the pop orientated pap so popular these days. If justice prevailed these songs would be wafting from the airwaves