If you don’t know the music of Ashleigh Caudill or know her mostly as an upright bass player with impeccable timing, her new CD Looney Bird will come as a pleasant surprise.
If you already know the work of the Nashville picker and songwriter, you’ll find Looney Bird an instant favorite and in heavy rotation on your playlist.
To my ears, Caudill hits a grand slam with this project – top-notch writing, singing and playing, on both bass and banjo. Guess you could say I’m crazy for Looney Bird.
The songs have an old time feel and an introspective bent, the kind of music that’s perfect for late at night, with the lights down low, or early Sunday morning solitude. They lean heavily toward moving on, being different and regret.
Living on the Countryside — with Caudill’s approachable, comfortable voice and fine fiddle and guitar work by Nate Lee and Matt Wingate, respectively — sets the tone for the record. The narrator of the song states that she “always liked the sparkling lights” of the city, but only “from the outskirts of town.” She could have made the move, she allows, but “I’ve never found the one who could make me want to stay.”
Many of the arrangements are pleasantly spare, very much in the style of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. But spare doesn’t mean simple. Though there is plenty of space for the notes from just two or three instruments, there’s a lot going on musically.
This is especially true on cuts such as Oh My Heart, with twin fiddle magic from Lee and Bryan McDowell, A Dream, on which Lee’s fiddle is joined by Caudill’s banjo and a guest appearance by former Gibson Brother Joe Walsh on mandola, and Franklin County, written by Caudill and David Grier. Twin fiddles and banjo are out front, with spot-on drum work in the background.
The title track, which Ashleigh wrote with Jess Ross, stands out for a different reason: Seven friends joining to sing a fun, lively chorus that you can sing along with the second time it rolls around in the song.
As far as my favorites go, Caudill saved the best for last. First is Train Whistle, which features Scott Simontacchi playing the train whistle and Caudill as narrator singing a challenge to herself as she tries to make up her mind and leave for a better situation – “If the whistle whines twice, I’ll be headed out the door.” For her sake, I found myself rooting that it will.
Then comes Around Town, which combines two staples of the bluegrass canon – cheating and murder. Grier’s guitar and Walsh’s mandolin give the tale a mournful, almost jazzy feel as Caudill tells about the cheating woman who gets what she has coming and the spurned woman who takes a long drop on a short rope.
But after all of the angst and sadness that run through the record, Caudill finishes with an upbeat song penned with Jon Weisberger, Wait for the Sun to Shine Again. The final words on the CD offer hope: “Just know that the sun will shine again.” With a cascade of choice notes from Jim Hurst’s guitar, you can almost see the light peaking over the horizon.