Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Chris Canterbury and Caleb Caudle

Chris Canterbury – Quaalude Lullabies

‘A heart only breaks when you use it’ is a line in this 28-minute album’s opening track The Devil, The Dealer and Me, sung over double bass, keyboard and resonating guitar. This is a Difficult Album from Chris, a Louisianan who approaches songwriting like a conversation at a kitchen table.

Self-produced, this is a piece of art akin to the latest album by Andrew Combs. Fall Apart is an acoustic ballad that Bob Harris would love. It’s full of lyrics like ‘lonesome highway’ and ‘a pound of grass’ as Chris paints the portrait of a troubadour. Similar ideas come on Felt The Same, where our narrator realises the disconnect between the hopes of hometown folk and the reality of his profession: ‘There’s nothing in this world quite as lonesome as midnight on a highway you don’t know’. The guitar and organ are perfectly arranged to suit the song.

There are more songs set on the road. Sweet Maria is a ballad celebrating a lady singing along and ‘keeping time with the radio’, while Over The Line is a trucker anthem (‘Texarkana to Carolina’) where death cannot help but rear its head (‘Drive me home, take me over the line’).

Heartache For Hire continues the downbeat mood, as Chris offers himself as someone who will ‘cut you like a cold wind if you need someone to blame’. Kitchen Table Poet is a vivid portrait of a man Chris met who ‘could turn a phrase like an AM dial…’

Yellow Mama, written by Will Kimbrough, is in the same tenor as Nick Cave’s The Mercy Seat, with the protagonist set to be executed via electric chair (’10,000 volts running straight to my head’). The accordion is completely at odds with the lyric: ‘Have mercy on me’ is not the most obvious singalong but Chris sells it well. Back On The Pills echoes the theme with the narrator, who is buzzing in a motel room, asking for forgiveness for his sins with his soul ‘as black as asphalt’.

It is no wonder that Chris’s grandpa was a Baptist preacher, as there are a great deal of lessons to be learned from the characters on this album. If you’re missing Chris Stapleton, give Chris Canterbury a go.

Caleb Caudle – Forsythia

Another half-hour of musical power comes from Caleb Caudle, whose album Forsythia begins with a toetapper called I Don’t Fit In. It has everything I like in music: a bit of twang in the guitars, some odd chords (thirds and sevenths rather than just ones, fours and fives) and a self-effacing lyric sung with panache. Bob Harris played it on The Country Show recently in between songs by Charlie Daniels and Twinnie.

Every review is likely to note that it was recorded at Cash Cabin with production by the keeper of JR’s flame John Carter Cash. Instrumentalists like Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush offer their A-List talents (actually AAA-List as they’re the best of the best), while vocals come from Carlene Carter and Elizabeth Cook. Hikes during the pandemic inspired the sound of the album, which takes its title from the yellow forsythia bushes Caleb would walk past. There’s a track on the album also called Forsythia,

His rootsy voice, which reminds me of the croon of Sean McConnell, does the songs justice. Whirligigs is about an 83-year-old man who sells items on the roadside. Jerry Douglas’ effortless solo on the dobro is like a breeze on a river and a listener shouldn’t miss the second verse where our protagonist buys an ice cream cone for his late wife. This is great songwriting full of pathos and verve.

Crazy Wayne, notionally a song about heartbreak, is driven by the lyrical hook ‘it must not be a coincidence’, while Sam Bush does his mandolin thing.

Through My Hands (‘sometimes a little warmth is hard to find’) is a gentle ballad which sounds like Alison Krauss covering a John Prine song. Tears of Savannah is a well-constructed bluegrass song with a sombre lyric and arrangement. Texas Tea has a brilliant chorus which includes a line about how ‘some mountains are worth climbing’. Caleb’s narrator was ‘born for the chase’ as he is surrounded by ‘night as dark as Texas tea’.

Shattered Glass has some great imagery to underline how Caleb can ‘handle heaviness’: rollercoasters slowing down, the Western wind blowing weathervanes, flickering lights and the burial of pride and hatchets. The album ends with Red Bank Road, a track which would sound great on a hiking trip through the land around Cash Cabin.

This piece was brought to you by the letter C!

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