Cadillac Sky

Letters In the Deep

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Cadillac Sky's first two albums came out on Skaggs Family Records, a label run by bluegrass superstar Ricky Skaggs, but Cadillac Sky doesn't fit easily into the bluegrass genre as you'll instantly understand when "Trapped Under the Ice," the album's opening track, comes roaring out of your speakers (or ear buds). The instruments are bluegrass to be sure -- acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and bass -- but the band plays them with the aggressive energy of rockers. Lead singer and main songwriter Bryan Simpson sings and wails like a crazed bluesman, and the clanging banjo, shrieking fiddle, and stomping guitar and bass fall somewhere between rock and classic '40s big-band swing. "3rd Degree," a tale of murder and jealousy, starts out with a fiddle mimicking the sound of a police siren. When the band kicks in, they build up the momentum of a midnight freight train bearing down on a car stalled on the tracks. Again the approach is as much rock, or even B-movie soundtrack, as it is bluegrass. "Trash Bag" features piano and Beatlesque doo wop harmonies, and an icy steel guitar makes "Part of My Heart" sound like a country lament, but the lyric is more grim and poetic than anything you're likely to hear coming out of Nashville. There are a few moments here that come close to traditional bluegrass. "Ballad of Restored Confidence" and "Pitiful Waltz" sound conventional on the surface, but as the titles imply, there's something a little deeper going on here than first meets the ear. The album was produced and recorded by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, in his basement analog studio. With the exception of a few overdubs, the session was tracked live and it captures the band's ragged virtuosity in all its unkempt glory. Unlike many bluegrass bands, Cadillac Sky's lyrics are peppered with modern references -- cell phones, plastic trash bags, graffiti, and high school traumas. Don't know what bluegrass purists think of this gang, but this is an acoustic band that any punk or rocker will love.

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