Johnny Cash built his Cash Cabin as a sanctuary before converting it into a recording studio where he made some of his American Recordings. It also hosted sessions from Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris, among many others. The latest artist to have used this fabled facility is Caleb Caudle. Seeking a more ‘earthy, funky’ sound, the troubadour from North Carolina went there to record his recently released eighth studio album, Better Hurry Up. Whether being, as he described it, “in the shadows of giants” had any influence or not, Better Hurry Up is Caudle’s best yet.
The theme of freedom runs throughout the album. Caudle takes stock of where he is now and how we have to take action now to secure the many freedoms and rights we take for granted. Caudle’s records have weaved a varied path. His early style was a quite stripped back, singer-songwriter, style in contrast to the cosmic Americana sound of Crushed Coins from two years ago. While not going all the way back to his roots, Better Hurry Up comes across as a sharper complement to his vividly perceptive lyrics. Caudle has always been a keen student of musical styles. Leon Russell is a recent focus, hence the ‘earthy, funky’ sound he sought, and achieved.
Producer John Jackson was integral to this new approach. Guest vocalists Courtney Marie Andrews, Elizabeth Cook, Gary Louris, and John Paul White made a big contribution too while the musicians he enlisted, including Russell’s bassist Dennis Crouch, are no less impressive.
Yet despite this array, the record is not overproduced. They didn’t have time as recording only took a few days giving the album a spontaneous feel. Title track and opener lives up to its name. Together, moody organ, ominous riff, John Paul White and Elizabeth Cook create a sense of foreboding to match Caudle’s “time is running out, so you better hurry up”.
A sense of urgency pops up again in ‘Monte Carlo’. Caudle’s grandfather had a 1970 Monte Carlo in which he would take the young Caleb for a drive. Musically the Leon Russell influence comes through as Caudle’s imagery of “go to the casino and bet it all on black” captures the point at which you just go for it and see what happens.
‘Feelin’ Free’ also looks back, this time to the days when booze held Caudle in its grip. He makes no excuses or pleads for sympathy. That freedom was a mirage as he recognises he was a “slave to the thing that makes me free”. This is no lament, the lively slide and light keyboards vie with a wryness to match the lyric.
Life on the road preoccupies Caudle. In ‘Call It a Day’ he muses about the damage touring can inflict. To a very New Orleans sound he asks if the bravest move would be to pack it in. But he doesn’t. Owing his rehabilitation to his wife who becomes his manager, he spreads his wings further with ‘Bigger Oceans’. Returning to his sparser style Caudle opens up to show his deep gratitude for his soulmate.
A similarly gentle pace to ‘Regular Riot’ is the perfect accompaniment for further unburdening as Caudle examines mistakes and sets out how he intends to do better. Almost imperceptibly, his backing musicians join in. Crouch’s bass keeps the groove moving on and Russ Pahl’s pedal steel adds texture to the soliloquy.
Better Hurry Up is not all about Caleb Caudle. Drawing on an even deeper well of disquiet, ‘Dirty Curtain’ gives a stark political warning. The Cash Cabin’s looser funkier style adds further depth to his message.
Both lyrically and sonically, Caleb Caudle again manages to serve up something different. Forget trying to squeeze him into a musical genre, it just doesn’t work, but instead just immerse yourself in this new crisper style. You won’t be disappointed.