A singer and songwriter from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Caleb Bailey offers a striking solo debut with Poplar & Pine, an album that explores a range of emotions and experiences with an exceedingly impressive drive and dynamic. Bailey, a one time member of the bluegrass band Allegheny Blue, makes a marked impression, but one also has to give credit to the impressive ensemble that offers him such striking support from the first song to the last.
Indeed, with opening track, Grim Reaper, Bailey and company immediately assert their emphatic stance. Both driving and deliberate, it sets the tone for all that follows from that point on. The title track, and Red County Clay, detail the daring exploits of outlaws fully committed to pursuing a life of crime and carousing. So too, the rambling narrative, Hard Cider, provides an intoxicating entry all its own. Likewise, the busy picking and plucking shared in When the Power Fell On You finds drive and devotion stirred up emphatically with equal measure.
That energy is impressive, but Bailey is best defined by the depth of emotion he invests in each of these entries. The heart-wrenching ballad, How Do You Say Goodbye, emphasizes the difficulties of saying a final farewell to those you love, whether it’s a child striking out on her own or an elderly grandparent facing an incurable illness. Likewise, Eagles Are Made to Fly is a ballad about the joys of experiencing the true measure of freedom in a universe that’s too often constrained by conformity. Still, the most poignant song of the set figures to be United Flight 93, a song that details, from a first-hand perspective, what it was like to witness the final descent of the plane that was famously diverted away from the Capitol by its courageous passengers and then crashed in a field in Pennsylvania on 9/11. With guest vocalist Wayne Taylor adding to its emotional read, it rekindles the shock and sadness that’s no less difficult to reconcile even some 20 years on.
Ultimately, it’s that ability to seize emotion from such a personal perspective that defines Bailey’s abilities and makes Poplar & Vine such a genuinely impressive offering. He’s not only got a gift for detail, but an evocative and expressive way of conveying the sincerest sentiments as well. Consider this effort both stoic and celebratory, and indeed, quite an initial accomplishment.