Album Review : The Cadillac Three – Tabasco & Sweet Tea

Review by Peter Coates –

Release Date – 23/10/20

A second album in 2020 from The Cadillac Three is a doubling of the joy spread every time this band releases any new material.  This set of new songs has been dropped with less than 5 days notice, and has caused a flurry of excitement as a result.  

Given that the February release of Country Fuzz was perhaps the band’s strongest to date, there is a high standard set for Tabasco & Sweet Tea which I for one am pleased to say has, on the first listen, been met, albeit in a truly surprising fashion – in particular if tracks like The Jam from that record got your juices flowing.

The title track opens the album, and has an atmospheric groove driven by the deep bass lines from Kelby Ray Caldwell, and some syncopated beats from Neil Mason on the drums, but with a familiar drawl in the vocals, and a wonderful harmony in the chorus.  Unusually for the band, this one is way longer than 3 minutes, and features a languid guitar solo from frontman Jaren Johnston.

The album has a recurring theme of some quick little “radio” grabs in between each track, some of which are pretty funny!

Stop That Girl gives us some classic TC3 beats while Jaren delivers some powerful gritty vocals over some tasty and unexpected guitar riffs, and a real gang-chorus from the boys.  The final chorus is an explosion of guitars in a maelstrom of expansive sounds that is just a delight.  There is a mesmerising fuzzy guitar line to Head Over Wheels and a pumping beat, and allows Jaren to rip out a solo over the stripped back sounds before the chorus powers back in.  

Seventies disco mixed with an early TC3 vibe leaps to the fore with the funked-up number that is Sweet Southern Spirit, with some wicked backing vocals and snare drum patterns, and a real sense of fun throughout in the southern rock / whiskey-soaked lyrics.  The mention of Stevie Wonder as an influence is nowhere more evident than in the pairing of SSS with Road Soda that follows – all beats and jams. 

For those who listen to this record as first-time listeners to TC3, having heard the boys to be a sweaty rocking-out southern country fuzz band, there will be confusion in the funky jazz-rock feel and the Stax / Motown vocal styles of many of the choruses – and I am expecting some negative comment and criticism on social media.

But when you break these tracks down, and compare the underlying rhythms and guitar sounds to the early TC3 material, they are not that far from the source – albeit with a really strong addition of the 1980’s funk and jam-band feel to many of the songs.

The funk continues combined with a sleazy country rock vocal in Bridges, again powered along by the bass and drums that are providing a real added dimension to the feel of the record.

There is a slightly different feel to the intro to Devil’s Lettuce, but it quickly turns into something that is clearly TC3, with a monotone rap verse over a beat box rhythm before Jaren delivers a ripper of a solo, and the chorus is simply divine!

The double of Crispy and Money Ain’t Shit both provide classic TC3 guitar lines over the expanded jam-band vibe from the last album.  Jaren is on top-form on both voice and guitar, and there is an extra layer from the way the backing vocals have been used through much of the record.  Crispy has a really interesting Primus-like feel to the middle-eight, with some discordant guitars clashing with each other.

The completely free and easy Turn The Radio On sees some of the best drumming yet from Neil, and there is a whole range of stunning guitar work from Jaren, from jangly clean funk through to gritty dirty southern rock, and the tastiest little licks thrown in between.  There is a massive slab of guitar just before the final chorus that is my favourite part of the record.

Album closer is a more “normal” TC3 sound, with Sabbath On Cornbread delivering some superb tongue in cheek lyrics that tell a bit of a story of the band for those who may not get it!

These 3 longhairs born and raised here
Gonna keep on changin’ the game
Sticks and skins, slide and steel
Guitar man 3 hippie hillbillies from Tennessee
Keepin’ it heavy, keepin’ it real
Best damn band in Country, you best believe
You ainʼt never seen nothinʼ like The Cadillac Three

The Cadillac Three are a few years and several albums into their career now, and it is great to see that they are not afraid of progression and experimentation – Jaren is one of the most appreciated songwriters in the Country Music scene, and the band has appeared on big Country Music festival and arena stages, often stunning the crowds with their raw power and energy, as well as their own headlining tours around the UK, Europe and in smaller US venues.

I hope that the new material will continue to expand their audience without too many folks decrying what they may see as a departure from their country-rock roots – the more I listen to these new tracks, the more I hear the things I have always loved about the sound of the band from Day 1.  They have just added a whole heap of fun and vitality to the mix!

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Photo – Nick Rau