Winston-Salem, NC, Americana up-and-comer Caleb Caudle previously unleashed two superb albums recorded with his band The Bayonets: 2010’s Snake River Canyon and 2009’s Stay On. (There was also a 2011 digital-only EP, The West Salem Session well worth checking out.) Whether dipping into classic Lone Star State (see: Ely, Clark, McMurtry) territory or aiming for the big picture via some genuinely inspiring Springsteenian flourishes, Caudle’s potential as a singer-songwriter was obvious from the get-go.
For Tobacco Town – yes, that is a reference to his hometown, but it also conjures images of a disappearing South – Caudle dials back the anthemism and aims for a more contemplative intimacy. It would be presumptuous to label this a “heartbreak” album, but it’s clear just from some of the song titles (“Hesitate,” “Little Reminders,” “Miss Me When You’re Gone,” “Miles Away”) and quite a few lyrics (one sample, from sparse, haunting closing track “Reckless Motorcycle”: “We said it; you meant it; I didn’t/ Now my phone only rings when you need something/ My phone doesn’t ring much at all…”) that Caudle’s personal life has taken a few twists and turns since the relatively upbeat Snake River Canyon period, and that he’s navigating it, at least partially, in song.
It’s a shared journey with the listener, of course, with Caudle’s burnished pipes placed squarely up front in the mix to ensure that no one evades the singer’s call. From the gorgeous opening track “Blue Or Gray,” a Whiskeytown-like ballad featuring – speaking of which – erstwhile Whiskeytown member Caitlin Cary guesting on violin and vocals (she’s also present on “Midnight Beauty”); to the gently ruminative, evocative, voice-and-acoustic guitar title track; to “Hesitate,” a jaunty banjo-powered number (courtesy multiinstrumentalist Sam Kossler, who contributes sundry stringed instruments, keyboards and backing vocals across the album) that is probably the most Caudle/Bayonets-like number here; Tobacco Town ably carries on the Caudle tradition of evocative songsmithery. It also sets the stage for his next chapter – we’ll be watching closely, no lie.