Cadillac Sky: Allegedly Old-Time Bluegrass | Bleader

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cadillac Sky: Allegedly Old-Time Bluegrass

Posted By on 04.22.10 at 12:24 PM

Cadillac Sky
  • Cadillac Sky
On the 2008 album Gravity's Our Enemy (Skaggs Family), Nashville-based, Texas-bred bluegrass band Cadillac Sky made it clear that they were searching. Part of a wave of young bands pushing and pulling at the genre’s old-school constraints, they mixed disparate styles—gospel, pop, rock, blues—into music that used bluegrass's traditional instrumentation and multipart vocal harmonies. In the fall of 2008 I wrote, "Cadillac Sky are certainly biting off more than they can chew, but with some editing they could be a powerful force."

Their third album, Letters in the Deep (out on Dualtone on June 8), was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, and on it they seem to be getting a handle on their hybrid. They again use guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, and fiddle in very nonbluegrass ways. Matt Menefee still plays banjo clawhammer style—no brittle power chords here—but the arrangements veer giddily in and out of bluegrass turf. The album opener, "Trapped Under the Ice," almost sounds like a lost Yardbirds number. "Trash Bag" mixes up sweet vocal harmonies a la the Beach Boys, tinny parlor-room tack piano, emo-worthy caterwauling, and storming riffs that wouldn't sound of out place on a Led Zeppelin record. But somehow, it works. The liner notes declare, “All songs on this album were recorded live in the studio with minimal overdubs to obtain the sound and feel of old time bluegrass music,” and I'm still trying to decide how sincere that sentence is—no one's gonna hear the sound of old-time bluegrass in this stuff, but there is something to the feel of it.

Auerbach gets a mono-like sound that mashes the band's spectrum into a tight band without sacrificing the clarity of individual instruments. This creates an urgent intensity that's all too often lacking on bluegrass records, which often feel downright antiseptic. No amount of lo-fi production is going to disguise the ho-humness of boilerplate bluegrass like "Ballad of Restored Confidence," but many of the tunes on Letters in the Deep are sharp enough to benefit from Auerbach's sonics. I'm not sure the material will sound as good live—clean fidelity could dilute the thrill in some cases—but either way I admire Cadillac Sky’s commitment to experimentation.

Cadillac Sky play tonight at Martyrs'.

Below you can check out "Hangman," a song from the forthcoming album:

Today's playlist:

Don Cherry & Latif Khan, Music Sangam (Heavenly Sweetness)
Woody Herman, Blowin' Up a Storm!: The Columbia Years 1945-47 (Columbia/Legacy)
A Bolha, Um Passo a Frente (Lion Productions)
Paolino Dalla Porta Quintet, Urban Raga (Parco Della Musica)
Various artists, Malaco Soul Brothers Volume 1 (Soulscape)

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