Caleb Caudle’s music has never fit neatly into any holes that most songs within musical genres seem to, but after years of evolving as an artist, the singer now finds himself on the verge of what could become his big breakthrough.
With this weekend’s release of “Crushed Coins,” the Winston-Salem native’s eighth album, Caudle is being lauded by media outlets from Rolling Stone to NPR.
To describe the Nashville-recorded album as refined isn’t to say that it is polished to the point of soullessness, as so many other records hailing from Music City can be labeled. Instead, Caudle’s efforts harken back to albums of old – those you’d listen to from Side A to Side B without taking a break.
Those types of albums have been largely left behind in a music industry now focused on single downloads and streaming numbers. One look at Caudle’s tour schedule – which will bring him to the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro Saturday night for an album release show – gives an idea about just how much the business has changed.
Not that long ago, entertainers would look down their noses at those who took bookings to perform on cruise ships. Now, cruises are one of the last lucrative gigs that a singer can find, and Caudle’s recent set aboard the 11th annual Cayamo Cuise found him playing alongside such names as John Prine (“Angel from Montgomery”) to Brandi Carlile (“The Story”), performers considered among the greatest of today’s independent-minded songwriters.
“I’m probably part of the last generation cutoff where the internet still wasn’t a thing when I started to really buy music,” Caudle said in an interview. “Shortly thereafter, around the time I turned 16 or 17, people began downloading (music) illegally and I had no idea that would ever be possible. Unfortunately, once that door was opened, the whole music business changed; everyone had to suddenly figure out new ways to make money. It’s changed so much in the last decade, and I think we’re only going to see it evolve even more in the upcoming years, because there’s really no other option.”
Even booking this weekend’s show at the Cat’s Cradle can be considered a sign of progress by the singer-songwriter. For many years, Caudle felt lucky when he came to the Triangle to find an opening slot before a local act, despite the buzz that already was working its way around the state for the Piedmont-based musician’s sound. Without many friends to rely on locally, at least at the beginning, he grew as an artist as he met influences along the way.
“(I was) just playing (Chapel Hill’s) The Cave and Slims (in downtown Raleigh), and luckily they would put me on the bill there,” he said. “But it was just going back and forth between those two places. It seemed hard, because it felt like I just wasn’t part of ‘the club,’ but over the years I have definitely met a bunch of cool Triangle musicians that have been very gracious toward me.”
That includes local country stalwart John Howie Jr., Caudle says, who guided him at the beginning of his career.
“They came a generation before me, in the Americana scene there, when it was still being called alt-country,” he said. “I always looked up to all those folks, just for being such great songwriters. So it was always cool to have them there willing to answer questions I had for them. They were always cool with advice, kind of pinpointing that this is what I should do, and that is what I shouldn’t do.”
Those were lessons that the singer took to heart when he made the leap into performing full-time to pay the bills, and left the idea of a day job behind. It was a change brought on from performing with the Charleston-based indie rock duo Shovels & Rope, as they explained to him that it it’s hard to fully put yourself behind your own music when you rely on a safety net that occupies time and energy to maintain.
“They explained to me, ‘You can totally (make a living from playing music), you just have to put everything into it, and make it a constant in your life. You can’t just play when it’s convenient, it has to be at the forefront of your mind everyday,’” Caudle recalls. “I hated my job – I was working at a pizza shop – and knew I liked playing music more than I liked running a cash register, so I booked about three months worth of shows, and put in my notice at the pizza joint. That’s been almost five years ago now, and I haven’t looked back since.”
“If anything, I’m pushing the gas harder now,” the singer continues with a laugh. “Momentum is a crazy thing; if you have it and can handle it, you can keep pushing forward, but it’s hard to get it back once you lose it. My wife just left her job to work as my tour manager, so we’re both now all-in on this thing.”
Who: Caleb Caudle album release show with opener Jake Xerxes Fussell
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 24
Where: Cat’s Cradle Back Room, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro
Cost: $10 in advance, $12 day-of show
Info: 919-967-9053 or CatsCradle.com