North Carolina native Caleb Caudle released his first album, ‘Red Bank Road’, back in 2007. Since then he’s won critical acclaim for his five further records – most recently 2020’s ‘Better Hurry Up’, which spent weeks in the US Americana Radio his music has been featured on TV shows such as Nashville and The Ranch. Now he’s back with his latest release, ‘Forsythia’, produced by John Carter Cash and recorded at the Cash Cabin outside Nashville.
The 10-track LP opens with ‘I Don’t Fit In’, which grabs you with its immediacy as Caudle’s distinctive vocals merge with discordant guitar, reflecting the song’s message of trying to find one’s place in the world. It sets the tone for the record’s introspective feeling, with some beautiful vocal harmonies in the chorus and some fantastically vivid imagery of a murder of crows picking over bones. I also loved that there’s a really strong fiddle element – something which runs throughout this album – and the sense of quiet defiance. It feels like a piece that really celebrates uniqueness and eases you in to the rest of the album.
One thing which really stood out to me about this record was the range of tones on it. Caudle does a great job of balancing things out, seamlessly transitioning between sparse, haunting tracks like ‘The Gates’ – a dark tale of trying and failing to escape one’s demons, and with plenty of lyrical omens to boot – and simple, brighter numbers. ‘Through My Hands’, for example, has a lightness and sense of relief about it as the scales fall away from its narrator’s eyes and he expresses his gratitude for the support he’s received, with a huge sense of growth in the lyrics as the narrator drifts through life.
Elsewhere, the moving ‘Tears Of Savannah’ has a lovely softness to it that sees Caudle’s twangy vocals shine through the song’s sense of release against an acoustic guitar line, before shifting into a richer musical landscape backed with strings and a lonesome guitar riff. It’s a really timeless song with a delicate, almost spiritual feel, and has possibly my favourite line on the whole record (‘may you still love yourself despite your mistakes’).
One of the early highlights for me is the title track, which really puts the emphasis on the album’s naturalistic elements. The nostalgic lyrics, as Caudle sings of ‘slow as molasses days’ and firing stones at soup cans from a homemade oak slingshot, are layered over a rattling musical effect and a lilting acoustic guitar. It’s got a beautiful lush quality to it and I really liked how specific he gets, narrowing the scene down to ‘early April, late afternoon’. Other standouts included ‘Whirligigs’, a beautifully warm portrait of a man who’s ’83 but doesn’t know it’ driving his old green Chevy and with a twist that really captures the sense of loss after a long relationship. I also loved ‘Crazy Wayne’, a slinky, swampy number with spiky guitar and a tale of a man just trying to get by as he recounts his story, including the ‘hard times on his heels’ and visiting Dublin in the snow.
After a pair of songs reflecting on life on the road – the bright, bouncy ‘Texas Tea’ with its lyrics about following one’s restless feet to ‘pecan pie in a windowsill’ and making the best of whatever life throws at you, and the dramatic yet quietly straightforward ‘Shattered Glass’ – Caudle closes the album with ‘Red Back Road’. It’s an acoustic track which sees the narrator looking back on his youth with a strong sense of wistfulness (‘I was innocent until I moved away’) and putting the emphasis firmly on Caudle’s vocals. I really liked the sense of linking back to the title track and the love and affection when he spoke of missing his parents and his great-grandfather’s home where he ‘makes the most of his last days’ comes through brilliantly.
Overall ‘Forsythia’ is a rich, reflective project that really highlights Caleb Caudle’s vocals and skill as a songwriter, with a gorgeous naturalistic feel and some absolutely outstanding lyrics. The emphasis on slide guitar and fiddle gives the whole piece a great musical coherence and I enjoyed the nostalgic yet hopeful feel of the piece as a whole. It feels like a great album for quiet Sunday mornings or for walks in the woods as the autumn leaves begin to fall, and I’m intrigued to see where Caudle will take his music next.
Track listing: 1. I Don’t Fit In 2. The Gates 3. Forsythia 4. Whirligigs 5. Crazy Wayne 6. Through My Hands 7. Tears Of Savannah 8. Texas Tea 9. Shattered Glass 10. Red Bank Road Record label: Soundly Music Release date: 7th October 2022