"It's where you’re going, not where you’re from,” Caleb Caudle roars in “Triumph”, the opening track to the Bayonets’ new album Driver. The verse is accompanied by an almost startling kinetic shift; one moment he’s the taut, pragmatic navigator with an uncertain destination. The next, the lead guitar shoots forth in the mix and Caudle’s voice rings out with self-actualized determinacy. The album itself, Caudle says, is about distance, both emotional and physical. He wrote much of the lyrics while under the spires of an ill fated but edifying overseas romance. The subtext, however, speaks to the distances a songwriter must sometimes overcome before reaching a real artistic comfort zone and attaining control from there on out.
Taking into account Red Bank Road, his No Depression-laced 2007 solo debut, you could say that this is Caudle’s fourth album. It’s also the third by he and his full-on backing ensemble Caleb Caudle & the Bayonets. But in actuality, it’s a rebirth record, created by a group simply called the Bayonets and that just so happens to feature the core group of players responsible for 2010’s standout Snake River Canyon. Guitarist Philip Pledger became a full-fledged member of the group immediately following his contributions to Snake River Canyon and pedal steel/keyboard player Sam Kossler joined, and the band, not completely sure of their next direction, experimented.
“Once Philip joined, we recorded with Caitlin Cary,” Caleb said in reference to their collaboration “I Don’t Think Heaven Would Take Us (If It Couldn’t Have Us Both).” “We did '12 Dead Roses' and some other pretty country-tinged stuff,” added bassist Kyle Caudle. “And another song that sounded like the Strokes. We were just trying to figure out what we were doing to do.”
By the time the group had settled into the numinous confines of Echo Mountain Recording in Asheville, they found their comfort zone in the beneficent influence of some of the ‘80s stateliest recording — namely Bruce Springsteen’s Born In the USA, U2’s The Joshua Tree and The Replacements’ Tim.
“I was listening to a lot of big-sounding records that I thought were really well done,” said Caudle. “These were things that were great and really stand out, and that’s what I heard in my head.”
The space was the same as last time; the band feels they have a home in Echo Mountain. They brought back engineer Jon Ashley, who was instrumental in capturing the full potential of the band. The band traded overdubbing for live tracking, and the result was a unified sonic front. A touch of reverb was added to Chad Newsom’s snares, the limits of their amps were tested; and they realized that big, driving sound which they were wanting from the outset.
“We tried to find that perfect marriage between all of our influences and just went with that,” Caleb said. “I can certainly hear from song to song what reminds me most of each band member.”
By the time their support slot for Dawes came last August, they had completed tracking for the album, but had also made the decision to simply call themselves the Bayonets. And why not? It carries the fingerprints of not just a songwriter and his backing group, but of five distinctive players who all excel in their individual roles. Pledger’s scathing minorkey riffs and Kyle Caudle’s meaty rhythm define “Whiteout,” a song boasting the heaviest elements this band has ever done. Pledger makes a clear homage to U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” while crystalizing the band’s intentions of delivering that sound through a regional roots lens. Then there’s “Don’t Look Away,” a song defined by Kossler’s plaintive piano and organ playing.
Of all its superlative qualities, the painstaking diligence the Bayonets paid to the tracking of Driver stands out above all. Nothing is lost in the shuffle, keys are clearly demarcated from one song to the next, and the tenor shifts from driving to contemplative gracefully. It’s the epitome of a fully engaged collaboration; the sound of traveling a great distance not really knowing where you’ll end up, but still knowing when you’re there.
The Bayonets will release Driver this Saturday at the Garage with Corduroy Road and Drag Sounds in support.
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