Usually promo quotes on album covers must be taken in context. In the case of Ashleigh Caudill’s new recording, they prove true. Ashleigh Caudill, as Claire Lynch writes, does indeed “have an undeniable gift for songwriting.”
While the themes of her 12 originals are the basic themes of poor but happy, hard times, wishing for love, working toward the promised land, murder, death and the joys of being in love, what raises them to a superior level is her creativity at blending contemporary touches with older traditional forms and rhythms. The insistent 3/4 pulse of “Toil & Shame,” for example, has a chorus that calls to mind the old folk tune “Wind And Rain,” but also has a short interlude that makes me think of The Band. “Fruit Of The Vine,” the title song, uses clawhammer banjo and mixes the oldtimey image of wishing to be an apple on a tree with the contemporary wordplay of “vying with the fruit of the vine,” while “Pluckin’ The Hen” is an original happy go lucky fiddle tune with words and is reminiscent of “Down The Road” or “Cumberland Gap.” Perhaps the most impressive example of her use of older forms is the ballad “William White.” Many have written murder ballads in bluegrass of late, but most of them sound forced. “William White” doesn’t suffer that fate. Caudill cloaks her tale in archaic form and language structure, making it sound like she found a lost notebook from Cecil Sharp.
All four of those are highlights, but there are many others, including the religious anthem “Row By Row,” the quickpaced, joie de vivre of “Saturday Afternoon Man” and the lilting and pensive waltz of “Sad Song.” Caudill renders them all in a voice that is smooth and light, at times skipping and playful, at times drifting and soulful. Such vocal skills and good arranging and good backing work go with her fine songwriting skills and result in an exceptional album. (Ashleigh Caudill, 426 Deaverview Rd., Asheville, NC 28806, www.ashleighcaudill.com.) BW