If you haven’t yet heard of The Cadillac Black, you have a lot of catching up to do. They’re already making huge waves in Nashville with their unique brand of Southern rock, and fans in the likes of Eric Church and Dierks Bentley, both of whom they’ve toured with. In addition, their first ever show was opening up for ZZ Top, and they’ve also toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd (“it certainly has helped us open some doors”), and they have Billy Gibbon’s cell phone number, to name but a few. If that isn’t enough, no less than three of the songs from their self-titled debut album were featured on a recent episode of ABC’s ‘Nashville’ (including the cover of Ring of Fire that character Scarlett sang on). Their tracks have also been featured on The Vampire Diaries, Hart of Dixie and CSI Miami, not to mention a host of others.
Yet The Cadillac Black isn’t a five-piece supergroup, but three ordinary guys from Nashville who accidentally became a three-piece and found a way to make it work, even with such a wide host of instruments utilised in their music. These clearly talented musicians have only been together for just over a year, but Kelby Ray, Jaren Johnston and Neil Mason (described by Jaren as a ‘long-haired hippie drummer’) have already built up a great reputation on the live circuit and their support from such big artists and mainstream TV shows mean they have a big year ahead that is bound to see them every success. But it’s not just about their music. Jaren, the lead singer and guitarist, produced Dierks Bentley’s ‘Country & Cold Cans’ EP, and he has penned tracks for Dierks, Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans, Keith Urban (the #1 hit ‘You Gonna Fly’) and Tim McGraw. He’s also been nominated for Music Row Magazine’s 2012 Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year. All this means you’re in safe hands when choosing to listen to such an already accomplished band, so early in their career.
I interviewed Jaren and I loved how genuine and real he came across as. The three band members grew up together in Nashville and they’ve been friends as long as they can remember, playing together in a very organic process. In an industry where so much is manufactured, it doesn’t get much better than this. In fact, their album was thrown together totally organically in a couple of days at Sound Emporium in Nashville, recorded live with their engineer Ryan Gore. Jaren grew up watching his dad play drums at the Grand Ole Opry, and even saw Garth Brooks play the legendary stage for the first time – so it was only natural that his musical influences ranged from those popular during the 1990s, to more traditional artists such as Keith Whitley (inspired by his parents) to the classics such as Willie. But the music Jaren actually owned strayed a little. “My first cassette tapes were Lynyrd Skynyrd's greatest hits and Metallica's "And Justice For All"... I think I was like thirteen or something. I never thought about that before this band but that honestly explains our sound almost to the T!” Jaren also cites bands such as Rage Against The Machine, Tom Petty, Nirvana and the Rolling Stones as huge influences on The Cadillac Black’s music, among others.
So it’s not surprising that their music is so conflicted at times. Jaren told me, “I can't think of anyone on country radio that I could compare us to. That being said, I feel like there is a longing for something new and "out of the box" from kids these days. I see it at the shows and I feel it when I listen to the radio. I'd love for us to be that band.” But they don’t really care about ‘credibility’ in the conventional sense. Jaren says, “We are simply making the music that WE want to make and doing what WE want to do how WE want to do it. We sleep great at night!” As for 2013, there’s a potential label partner on the horizon, with of course, lots of shows and lots of songwriting. They really seem a laugh and I’m glad to see such great people with such a promising future in country music.
I have chosen to review three songs from TCB’s self-titled debut album so you get a feel for their music and what they’re about, and hopefully are encouraged to take a listen.
Get Your Buzz On: The song starts with a crash of the drums and this really sets the tone for the kind of the music you should expect from The Cadillac Black. A killer riff quickly follows, played by a distorted but heavily twangy guitar, and accompanied by a repetitive banjo line that makes the song infectious straight away. Jaren Johnston’s vocals growl across the mix in a Southern drawl that perfectly complements the sound. With lyrics simply about partying and ‘getting your buzz on’, I could hear a song like this on mainstream country radio, but this has far more sass and musical capabilities than most of what I hear on the radio. ‘Get Your Buzz On’ is heavier and rockier than the mainstream norm, but it’s still incessantly twangy and doesn’t feel like anything but country. The line ‘from Skynyrd to the Rolling Stones’ is an apt description of who they are and where they come from musically.
Down To The River: This track is much slower and is very clever in the way it musically really creates a mood and the imagery that matches the lyrics. This song is drum-orientated and lays down a slow and forbidding beat, with a minor key guitar pattern that tinkles sinisterly away. The vocals are drawn-out, lamenting and shrouded in effects in its tinny, echo-y vibe. It packs a big punch, especially in the chorus where the rest of the distorted instruments kick in. Lyrically the song answers the question ‘where does a broken man go?’, in finding solace sitting by the river when everything else has gone wrong. A simple idea that TCB have made into something so much bigger by building the song up to a dramatic climax designed to send shivers down the spine.
Life: When I came upon this track, I knew I had to review it because there was something about it that really caught my ear. It’s different to a lot of the other tracks on TCB’s album, yet still falls in line with the rest and doesn’t seem out of place. The song starts with a thick, full drum beat and a tamborine, a syncopated rhythm that is guaranteed to have anyone up dancing. After a few seconds we get a high-pitched strum of the guitar, that rings out before being taken over by the main riff. The riff is played on the electric guitar as is trademark for TCB, and similar to many of their other tracks, is simple, repetitive, and catchy. The vocals jump in and follow the off-beat infectious rhythm, a guitar line following the vocal melody exactly. There is a kickin’, heavily distorted guitar solo that leans towards metal, and their mastery of the song shows how good they can really be. The lyrics are a bizarre story of getting married and getting thrown in prison in Mexico (or perhaps it’s a metaphor?), it’s a fantastic song and one of my recommended tracks.
I genuinely have really enjoyed listening to The Cadillac Black, and their album is a cacophony of sounds, musical ideas and genres that produce fantastic songs yet feel inherently country. If you like a little rock to your twang, then there is nothing else but TCB. There are huge things to come for them, and I for one am excited to watch them flourish in the coming year.