Album Review – Caleb Caudle’s ‘Carolina Ghost’

Caleb Caudle Carolina Ghost

Some of the best music you’ll hear sounds so easy. Yet the reality of great music is that it’s very difficult to make. Quality music takes time, sometimes years of hard work, sweat and determination. Making a great album is much more difficult than making a great song. But when you hear a great album, you’ll know it upon the first few songs. It has spark about it that captivates your mind and your heart. That’s what I felt when I heard Caleb Caudle’s brand new album Carolina Ghost. Hailing from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Caudle had released six albums before Carolina Ghost. But none of them captured people’s attentions. So Caudle got sober, put his head down and went to work. This all led to the making of Carolina Ghost, an album produced by Caudle and Jon Ashley. And I assure you after listening to this album multiple times that Caleb Caudle is a name people won’t forget.

You get a taste of Caudle’s smooth vocals on “Gotta Be.” The love song really shows off the ability of Caudle to draw you in and want to hear more. This is pretty fitting for the first song on the album. Not to mention the soft pedal steel guitar throughout will lure in any country fan. “Piedmont Sky” is another easy-going love ballad. It’s about a man waiting summer after summer for a girl to “call his number.” The piano and steel guitar driven tune is the kind of song you can put on and enjoy upon the first listen. The album’s title track puts me in mind of an Eagles song. This is a good thing by the way. The reason I say it puts me in the mind of an Eagles song is because it has a relaxed, almost flawless like vibe about it from the instrumentation to the writing. It has a dreamy feel about it, putting the listener at ease as they listen to it.

The twangy “White Doves Wing” is one of my favorite tracks on Carolina Ghost. The song is about a man looking back on his life and realizing he hasn’t made the best decisions and has went over the line a few too many times. There’s times when he doesn’t even want to be around himself. But he’s come to accept that’s just who he is and he has to live with it. It’s a really well written, introspective song. “Uphill Battle” is a soft love ballad about a man reassuring his woman he’ll always be there for her. Whether she’s scared or unsure, he’ll be there. While on the surface this can sound cheesy, it actually comes off quite mature. It’s the kind of slow song I can see being played in a Texas dance hall. Heavy steel guitars permeate throughout “Borrowed Smiles.” The song is about a guy who always feels like a ghost at the bar, yet he always leaves before the party ends. While the world around him is celebrating and having a good time, he’s trapped in his own mind. It really paints a vivid picture in the listeners’ heads.

Caudle tackles winter blues with “Broken Hallelujah.” While the winter weather and sky brings him down, the presence of his love perks him right up and brightens his day. Once again there’s lots of steel guitar. If you love a lot of steel guitar in your country music, you’re going to love this album. The acoustic driven “Tuscaloosa” tells the story of a heartbroken man looking not to fix himself, but rather learn how to deal with his woman being gone. Every night he opens the window to hear rain just because he knows she would want him to do it. She set out on open road and he’s stuck wondering what happened. Caudle really nails the classic country heartbreak song.

Another standout on Carolina Ghost is undoubtedly “Wasted Thursday.” This two-stepping song is about a man who leaves his woman for the open road, leaving both lonely. He knows that the day he left was just “one long kiss goodbye” and wonders if she still thinks of me after he left. It’s a story of a man struggling with his love of being a rambling man and his woman back home, both pulling him in each direction. But ultimately the road wins his heart over. You could view it as a love song, but I see it more as a beautiful tragedy that is never-ending. “Steel & Stone” features Caudle’s best vocal performance on the album. That’s not to say his vocal performances on other songs aren’t good. They are quite good throughout. But this song on particular Caudle really sells the emotion of this love song, which goes perfectly with the production of it.

Carolina Ghost wraps up with “The Reddest Rose,” where Caudle ponders love he lost and how he’s coping with feeling normal again in the aftermath. He can’t believe she’s gone, but realizes she’s now just a song and no longer in his life. One saying she used to say he holds onto though is “the reddest rose just comes and goes.” It’s not just a reflection on their relationship, but on his life. “The Reddest Rose” is a soul-searching song that showcases the absolute talent of Caleb Caudle.

There’s no beating around the bush with this album: Caleb Caudle’s Carolina Ghost is a fantastic. It’s full of quality songwriting and you couldn’t make it more country if you tried. Caudle’s style and approach to music is very unassuming and allows the music to really reach out and grab the listener. The songwriting is beautifully uncomplicated and the instrumentation elevates it in every way. I think Carolina Ghost is an album every country fan needs to hear and Caleb Caudle is a star in the making. This is no frills, straight-forward, pure country goodness. Carolina Ghost is the real deal.

Grade: 9/10

Album Review – The Honeycutters’ ‘Me Oh My’

The Honeycutters are a roots country band from Asheville, North Carolina. Tal Taylor plays the mandolin, Rick Cooper the bass, Josh Milligan plays the drums for the band, and Matt Smith offers his skills on the pedal steel, electric guitars and a dobro. But the driving force of The Honeycutters is founder, primary songwriter, and singer Amanda Platt. She brought the band together in 2007 and led the way for the band through two albums. On this third album, released by in April, Platt also took the production reigns, taking full control of the creative direction of Me Oh My.

Platt says, “The new album is the one I’m most proud of to date…I took much more of a driver’s seat in it’s making, and the process has forced me to do a lot of growing up… I feel like I’ve really found my voice.” She worked alongside assistant producer and engineer Jon Ashley to deliver the 14 tracks found on album. The country roots are firm, with the ring of the pedal steel and the pluck of the mandolin noticeably behind Platt’s vocal delivery on nearly every track.

Me Oh My kicks off with a western swing in “Jukebox.” Here we find two down-on-their-luck people alone in the bar. Platt provides first person narration of asking the lonely man to dance with her. The moving production inspires the listener to dance along and is a great choice for an album opener. “All You Ever” finds a prideful man being knocked down a few pegs. This conceited fellow wants all eyes on him in the public, but in the privacy of his home, he’s been humbled. He doesn’t know how to cope with not being the center of attention.

The title track is a commentary of the modern woman. Unlike in our parents and grandparents’ age, women have children out-of-wedlock. They don’t all settle down for marriage. “Me Oh My” suggests the central character may be acting out in the wake of losing a child. It’s a hard-hitting song with honest lyrics, and that’s how Platt likes to write. “Me Oh My” is one of my favorite songs from the album. “Edge of the Frame” deals with a famous “friend” who simply uses people as he or she sees fit. Platt sings in the chorus, “Why you make a beggar out of your best friend? You pull me in and you push me away, ’til I’m standing on the edge, standing on the edge of the frame.

The Honeycutters touch on marital affairs in “Ain’t it The Truth.” Here, Platt sings of a woman in small town where everyone, including said woman, knows her husband is unfaithful. Judgments from the townsfolk are passed because this woman stays with her husband despite his actions. “Carolina” is a love story involving a rambling man. The wanderlust and call for the road is too much for him to stay, and she holds on, despite knowing how hopeless her love is. The theme of love continues on the ballad “Texas ’81.” This is a husband who travels frequently and keeps coming back. Together, they reminisce on their beginning and she yearns for him to stay, for their moments together to not end before he has to leave again. It’s a heartbreaking song punctuated by a great production that captures the passion and hope described in the lyrics.

“Little Bird” carries a theme similar to “Jukebox.” The song describes two people who are flawed and lonely, and that vulnerability allows them to let their guard down to the other person, just for the night. The two are scared of the morning, broken and hiding in the darkness. “Not That Simple” is another song exploring the topic of a cheating husband. In this case, the woman is hurt that he won’t love her, and that she’s fallen for someone who can’t love her. She tries to cope but simply shies away from everything until she simply can’t cry about it any longer. It’s a song about coming to terms and accepting his lies as a truth in her life.

With all the cheating and heartbreak songs, The Honeycutters offer up a song with a positive take on love. “Wedding Song” is about a bride thanking her husband for his love. When they met she was broken and hurt. Through his love and passion for her, he’s helped rebuild that heart and shown her happiness again. “Wedding Song” is a nice, bluegrass inspired love song. The following song, though, finds a marriage falling apart. “Hearts of Men” deals with a father and a husband who’s unhappy with this life. The sacrifices he made to build his family cause him angst. He desires some freedom and independence from his responsibilities, and his children simply want their father back.

“I’ll Be Lovin’ You” is a song of one lover’s encouraging. Life has brought them down and he’s not handling it well. She’s devoted to keep on loving him while he feels like he can’t love himself. At almost six minutes long, “I’ll Be Lovin’ You” has an excellent extended musical outro. “Lucky” finds a girl who continually makes mistakes in the relationship. However, her husband continues to forgive her time and time again, and she ponders how she got so lucky. The album ends with the love song “A Life For You.” It’s not your typical love song, as we see a Bonnie and Clyde type couple that are on the run from the cops. The woman, knowing that her husband is a better person than she, encourages him to save himself. She’s continually dreamed of a better life for him, and wants him to live that out. It’s a touching song that hits you hard. You really just have to hear it for yourself.

Overall, Me Oh My, is a pleasant album. The country rooted production and bluegrass styles in some of the songs are great. Amanda Platt’s lyrics are honest and deep, and she provides a good vocal delivery. My only complaints with the album are that the length of 14 songs is a little much, especially since none of the songs drift above a mid-tempo beat. Me Oh My drags a bit with the high song total. However, Platt’s sharp story telling and production do help make up for the drag, as the last couple songs do make the wait worth it. This is an album country fans missing the roots will love.

Grade: 8/10