Rhonda Mayne, contributor.
When ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine states that, ‘The Cadillac Three’ are “poised for their first big break in the UK”, it must be easy for Jaren Johnston, Neil Mason and Kelby Ray to sense that they have opened the door to the heart of country music. In attempting to do so, their latest album Bury Me In My Boots challenges the rift between country music and rock.
From track one, the southern resonance of Jaren Johnston’s voice relays the band’s personal, coming of age nostalgia. His voice has caught some of the vocal style of ‘Puddle of Mudd’ vocalist Wes Scantlin, albeit without the self-destructive antics. But it’s when this authentic country voice is fused with Ray’s guitar mastery, and the energy of Mason’s kit, that the sound becomes grimier than country and more anthemic than rock. Melodies are strengthened and the strong musicianship is both earthy and above many of their contemporaries. By embracing rock, ‘The Cadillac Three’ seem to point to a new direction for the genre – a way country music can change its perceived outdatedness, while still holding on to its origins.
Recently, country music stands accused of using a paint-by-numbers formula with respect to lyrical output. For millennial listeners, the old-fashioned lyrics which emphasise drinking, hooking up and smoking seem tacky and nonsensical. And the sheer volume of song lyrics such as, “slide that dress on off you, little girl, little birthday suit dancin” and “that’s why rednecks drink whiskey”, don’t help promote country music as a rich, modern-day genre with something relevant to say. However, Jaren Johnston does find a more contemporary voice, and gives an insight into human nature in the standout song, White Lightning. It represents a more progressive lyric, and the intimate element brims over with the real substance of country music. Some of the greatest songs ever written came from the likes of Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. People who told their stories through potent lyrics and represented an array of human emotions – by describing the joy, pain and humour of life, they instilled country music with an authentic credibility. Lyrically, it feels that ‘The Cadillac Three’ are holding back from connecting to a more inclusive, open-mindedness of the modern country music generation. A connection which, when crafted carefully, leaves a more lasting impression.
So, if we scrape off the top layer of varnish – the album promotion, meet and greets, sold-out shows – what remains? For many country bands, the personal connection between country music and real life is seldom done right, and outdated lyrics have crushed the recognition of country music as an American story-telling platform. But then again, through the mastery of their instruments and the fresh fusion of country and rock sounds, ‘The Cadillac Three’ have shown that they refuse to play along with the charade in order to ingratiate themselves. Does it matter which entrance you use to enter the beating heart of this genre? Maybe. Maybe not. But this band certainly has the potential to fully access the genuine substance of country music.