Journeyman singer-songwriter Caleb Caudle has spent most of his adult life making music, first with his band The Bayonets and, more recently, as a solo artist chasing the shadows of Americana crossover stars such as Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton. His latest collection, Carolina Ghost, is the twenty-nine-year-old's seventh and the one that's best-positioned to launch the North Carolina native's career. It certainly has the backstory.
After a sojourn to New Orleans, Caudle came back to Winston-Salem, sobered up, and fell in love. Thoughts of finding comfort by putting down roots, of making peace with past mistakes, and of seeking redemption permeate the album. Caudle heads into the chorus of the record's standout single, "White Doves Wings," with a string of confessions. Over shuffling strums and gentle prods from dobro and Hammond B3 organ, Caudle sings, "I've crossed some lines/I shrugged it off/And let it bring me down/Been the last person even I would want around." Despite this checkered past, he suggests a better future. "Red wine stain on a white dove wing/well, a furious love has found me."
If that better future includes a shot at wider success, it won't be altogether shocking. (Although it's certainly not as certified as some of the more fawning reviews might suggest; Huffington Post called Caudle the "next Jason Isbell" and said Carolina Ghost "could bump James Taylor from his perch as the most famous crooner about the Old North State.") Caudle and his band play tight and smooth here, putting a steady beat beneath these honky-tonk shuffles. Caudle writes with the regional specifics and character details of his alt-country idols and plays with the pop sensibilities of a George Strait or Randy Travis. Songs like the smoldering, sentimental "Uphill Battle" and the up-tempo drinking number "Borrowed Smiles" define "neo-traditionalist." It's easy to imagine them as new Americana anthems.