Caleb Caudle’s Crushed Coins, merges his knack for earnest songwriting with a broader sonic palette, even as he reaffirms his Carolina Country roots. In his quest for a more genre-less sound Caudle can’t escape the rich soil from which his world view springs, and that is a good thing. The Winston-Salem native has honed his craft on this new record, and his songwriting takes center stage.
“I want to be more direct,” he says by phone from his Carolina home. Caudle accomplishes that in spades, tackling love, loss, and grief with plain-spoken observations of the heart, and the beating it takes in the course of living and dying. A lesser talent might segue into maudlin, treacly territory, but not Caudle. By respecting the art of dying, he manages to ground his subject matter in its innate naturalness, thus lending weight to the business of living.
Caudle has travelled a wide road musically; playing bass in a punk band at fifteen before coming to his rural foundation. “The Clash, the Replacements, they made the transition to Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks easy. My cousin Greg turned me on to Neil Young.” From there our conversation traipses across the 70s country rock movement; Poco, the Byrds, Gram Parsons. Caudle’s influences are diverse, and he absorbs everything.
For Crushed Coins, Caudle once again turns to Jon Ashley’s formidable skills as a producer. Ashley worked with Caudle on his last two albums, 2014’s Paint Another Layer on My Heart, and 2016’s Carolina Ghost. Ashley, who has worked with the likes of Hiss Golden Messenger, Dawes, and The War on Drugs, brings a lot to the table. “We wanted to try different things, see what worked, what felt right for each song,” Caudle says. Ashley’s gift for creating moody atmosphere helps flesh out the emotional territory in Caudle’s writing.
The album begins with a simple finger-picked acoustic guitar overlaid with Brett Resnick’s haunting pedal steel on “Lost Without You.” Underpinned and riding on a steady drum beat courtesy of Ashley, the song conjures a fertile rural landscape. Caudle’s main character is waiting out his days, until he can cross over and join his beloved.
When I die, they’ll bury me
Underneath a magnolia tree
And the words written in the stone
“She was his home”
Until it’s over, I’m lost without you
Love, and the subject of losing a loved one runs throughout the album. Caudle’s characters feel adrift, cut loose from their moorings by mortality. They are unprepared for its sudden impact, its way of completely rearranging the lives of those left behind. Caudle’s method of coping is to celebrate love. The lovers in “Empty Arms” find shelter in their relationship.
Day after day after day
I’ve watched the world take so many things
But it won’t steal our charms
Come here now darling, fill these empty arms
The theme continues on “Love That’s Wild.” The simple joy of relationship and the anticipation of seeing his beloved after days on the road is set in a more straightforward country arrangement embellished by Resnick’s pedal steel. Caudle’s music doesn’t engage in chest beating, doesn’t have to declare that it’s country. It doesn’t need labels.
It is his clear-eyed focus on day-to-day life that gives Caudle’s songs their considerable, yet quiet, power. This is the world we know, the world we face each day, the life we lead often without realizing the significance in each moment. That Caudle is able to capture that for us is a gift that we can draw upon to help us properly measure our days.
Caudle’s life has been full of big moments in the last year or two. The loss of family members, combined with his marriage last year gives his songwriting a resonance that stays with the listener after the album’s last song fades.
The album’s charms are subtle and sneak up on the listener rather than bulrush them. Caudle’s masterful handling of ordinary details creates a portrait of real life, honest, without saccharine sentiment. It is a portrait that accepts life on its own terms. And Caudle the songwriter does not pretend to have the answers. There is no condescension, no preaching. Because of this there is no distance, no gulf to be bridged between the listener and the artist.
Caudle’s naturally warm voice connects and pulls us in to his world. The musical landscape is at times stark, at times dreamy, at times haunting. On Crushed Coins the living walk side by side with the ghosts of our loved ones, hidden only slightly by a very thin veil. Crushed Coins takes its time revealing itself as a quiet classic, don’t miss it.