As country-rock continues to sit at the sidelines waiting to be accepted by ‘proper’ rock circles, The Cadillac Three serve as the accepted ambassadors of that scene, worming their way […]
As country-rock continues to sit at the sidelines waiting to be accepted by ‘proper’ rock circles, The Cadillac Three serve as the accepted ambassadors of that scene, worming their way into the wider conversation. And even with better choices that could be made (especially when Brothers Osbourne are right there), it’s not hard to see why this of all bands have been given that opportunity. Their output has generally bore the swaggering rock machismo that was a directly carry-over from hard rock to modern country throughout the 2010s, and their choice to embrace a lot of the synthetic choices of that sound in favour of more traditional country-rock has given them that crossover potential, at least in some capacity. At the same time though, The Cadillac Three have never been the most impressive band, often doling out material that’s serviceable, but also the sort of thing that doesn’t have that long of a shelf life. It’s analogous to the vast majority of mainstream country that they sit adjacent to, and when this is supposed to be the singular paragon to give that sound its exposure in the rock world, that can be a problem as far as staying power is concerned.
And thus, Country Fuzz serves as a startlingly accurate title for The Cadillac Three’s new album – it’s definitely indebted to those modern incarnations of country, and it just little to prevent them from being as forgettable and homogeneous as always. It’s pretty much the epitome of ‘brain-off’ music, where any deeper analysis is always going to prove fruitful in favour of the stomping vibe that the band are capable of pulling off when treated as mere background music. Because yes, there’s definitely merit to that, and it’d be hard to begrudge The Cadillac Three’s skills when it comes to pulling that off, but even a cursory glance below the surface reveals that style to be all this album has, and the minute it’s placed in any brighter spotlight, the whole thing falls apart almost instantly. It’s not horrible, but when The Cadillac Three’s existence essentially boils down to neatly filling the exact hole that’s been left for them in the larger scene, being unenthused kind of comes naturally.
It’s not even like it’s required for The Cadillac Three to get all that intelligent either, but when so many of their songs feel like the tiniest transpositions of bog-standard, faceless country songs, deviating from a formula that’s already in its intense bust period doesn’t seem like too much to ask. To give them credit, their party side does have a certain amount of dumb fun to it, and there’s at least some life to The Jam and All The Makin’s Of A Saturday Night that can raise a smile. Leaning into that rabble-rousing country-rocker energy proves more appealing than the pretty undercooked ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ message of Labels or the more wistful yearning of Back Home, but the window of opportunity proves incredibly small, and the remotest bit of attention paid reveals how generic most of these songs actually are. It’s perhaps most blatant on the locked-in southern pandering of Hard Out Here (For A Country Boy) and Dirt Road Nights, but when The Cadillac Three’s semantic resources barely evolve past the most surface level depictions of drinking and being a good ol’ boy – something that had its already meagre amount of life squeezed out of it years ago, bear in mind – there’s nothing to be wowed by as much as being nonplussed by how unadventurous any of this is.
It’d be a death sentence if Country Fuzz wasn’t at least canny enough to make itself sound fun when it needs to. There’s a limberness to The Cadillac Three’s style that forms a solid enough rollick on a track like All The Makin’s Of A Saturday Night, but bringing in tones adjacent to a disco strut on The Jam and Jack Daniel’s Heart is indicative of a band who are at least having fun with what they’re doing, and making the most of the crafty vocal tone of Jaren Johnson that’s almost like a less world-weary Eric Church in places. Honing in on a more tangible rock influence does a lot of good too, with Slow Rollin’ blaring out its tar-thick riffs at the sort of deliberate pace that can make it feel a lot heavier than it is, and Blue El Camino, while a bit thinned-out in spots, is a pretty good hard rock pastiche in its galloping pace and tone. The bigger issue, though, comes with how all of this is produced, thankfully eschewing modern country’s synthetic lack of dynamism but never rarely going deeper on a rock or even an outlaw country side that would be so much more beneficial. The guitars could almost universally do with a bit more muscle, while the drums and bass are just kind of there within the mix, making for a sound that’s bizarrely static at times. Coupled with looser acoustic guitars on a track like Raising Hell that just don’t fit all that well in a more open production style, and Country Fuzz struggles to settle on a clear direction, and that can do a lot of harm to it. Doubling down on the grittier rock side would have masked some of the weaker moments production-wise, but when that focus clearly isn’t a priority, Country Fuzz as a whole just feels like a predominately unfocused and overly long listen.
That’s generally disappointing too, because there’s at least the core of something good within The Cadillac Three. Given their position as the firmest conduit between rock and country, they’ve got the chance to do so much, and yet Country Fuzz isn’t much of anything at all, never innovating on its country side and barely embracing its rock side. It’s enjoyable in spots and generally works in small doses, but it’s far from any sort of classic, and really does fade in record time after the initial hit, something which a greater commitment to forging their own presence within both rock and country could easily do. That hasn’t happened here though, and thus Country Fuzz’s shelf life is about as limited as it gets, and The Cadillac Three remain static in a position that’s becoming increasingly redundant.
For fans of: Whiskey Myers, Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Country Fuzz’ by The Cadillac Three is released on 7th February on Big Machine Records.