Caleb Caudle goes electric

by Jordan Green

Caleb Caudle’s solo album, a melancholy collection of songs recorded on the heels of a romantic breakup, thrust the Winston-Salem songwriter into a measure of local fame after the dissolution of his last band, the Lowlands, helping him secure a headline spot at the Dixie Classic Fair in the Twin City, and the cover of a Triad entertainment tabloid.

Red Bank Road, which was released independently earlier this year, was recorded expeditiously at EKS Sound in eastern Tennessee as an almost naked document of Caudle’s songcraft, spare acoustic guitar playing and understated vocals, with brother Kyle penning three songs and playing bass. The rare extravagance on the recording are the overdubbed lap steel tracks contributed by the Everybodyfields’ Megan McCormick.

Caudle and his new band, the Bayonets, are barnstorming the mid-South and the border city of Cincinnati these days, firing the once-smoldering embers of those acoustic songs – along with some new ones – into a full blaze of ragged glory by raising the volume and replacing McCormick’s mournful lap steel with the scarcely contained fury of Daniel Allen’s lead guitar playing. With Kyle Caudle carrying over from the Lowlands, the other new member is drummer Chad Newsom.

An erstwhile punk rocker who rebelled by hunkering down with a stack of classic country recordings, Caleb Caudle’s commitment to honest songwriting and music-making provides a wide stylistic berth, encompassing both spare folk and careening rock and roll.

“There’s the real intimate songwriter-Nebraska- style side, and then there’s the rockin’ Lynyrd Skynyrd-Second Helping side,” Caudle says before setting up for a recent show at the Green Bean in Greensboro. “I like Johnny Cash, the Clash, George Jones and the Ramones. There’s definitely a sense of place in our music that I think comes across.”

Later, he says more about that simple yet elusive quality that he loves in his favorite artists and strives to attain with his own band.

“I could go home and listen to George Jones and Merle Haggard tonight,” Caudle says. ” A great song might be Joe Strummer rocking and putting you in a rebellious mood or Porter Wagoner making you want to cry. All I want out of any artist is for them to be honest. You can’t go wrong if you sing about what you’re going through.”

When the Bayonets play Ziggy’s, Winston-Salem’s beloved listening room near the campus of Wake Forest University, on a recent Friday night, most of the crowd is evidently there for the headline act, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. It’s the Bayonets’ fifth show and the audience’s familiarity and respect grows toward enthusiastic appreciation with each passing song.

A cursory listen might suggest Bob Dylan’s more introspective songs shortly after he went electric or Steve Earle fronting the Replacements at a weekly standing engagement at an uncelebrated bar.

The two guitar players and bass player mostly face the audience, dressed similarly in collared shirts and pointy-toed cowboy boots. Kyle Caudle smiles more readily than his brother. Caleb Caudle introduces the songs with quiet charisma. His longish brown hair and bushy sideburns give him the raffish good looks that have helped light Ryan Adams’ star quality. When he sings the opening verse of the George Jones classic, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” a female voice is heard shrieking with delight from deep within the audience.

By the time the last song rolls around, the singer is on his knees for the finale as Allen dispatches scorching yet restrained guitar leads. When Caudle leaps to his feet to thank the crowd, they’re howling with appreciation and wanting more.

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