At the risk of sounding lazy, life is so much easier when an album title perfectly describes the work. The Cadillac Three’s Country Fuzz precisely captures the delightfully ragged album, which soaks a straight-forward country in a tub full of distortion, creating music that will delight metal heads and line dancers, both groups previously only in agreement over the appropriateness of mullets.
Nashville’s own The Cadillac Three is Jaren Johnston on guitar and vocals, Kelby Ray on lap steel and Neil Mason on drums. It’s atypical instrumentation for just about any genre one can imagine, but while the band has a unique sound, it doesn’t read as particularly foreign. The music resonates at a familiar frequency. But not many bands can do what this trio does.
The big comparable might be ZZ Top who also fused the blues to electronic dance music, but as good as ZZ Top are, they never swung like this. “The Jam,” which came out of Cadillac’s soundcheck jamming, is a glimpse into an alternative world where Prince was born in Tennessee and not Minnesota. The song is almost pure groove, and while it might work for a line dance like the Watermelon Crawl, there would have to be a concern about hips flying out of the sockets. The pedal steel swerves through the song, sounding almost like turntables getting scratched. But Mason’s drums thunder along, unwilling to surrender the rock fight.
“Labels” swaggers on a cocktail of interlocked guitar and steel that wind up sounding almost like a saxophone. Johnston’s vocals are practically spoken, but not in a rap-appropriating kind of way. Instead, it feels like he’s preaching over a tremendous beat. “Blue El Camino” is a country roller disco, almost like classic Red Hot Chili Peppers fronted by Jason Isbell. “Back Home” is gentle country punctuated with blasts of guitar that makes the tune feel like Led Zeppelin in their prime.
You’re probably starting to notice a pattern. The Cadillac Three are country artists who aren’t afraid to shine a light on their less Western influences. But the country is always there. It’s not like Southern rock, which is often a short-hand for straight-forward rock with a few pedal steel-inspired big guitar string bends and a drawling singer. This is country music that rocks and shimmies. And it does all three hard. “Whiskey and Smoke” has verses where it sounds like Johnston might be singing from the back of a hayride, before careening into a chorus that’s straight-up mosh. It’s a song you can almost imagine coming from Queens of the Stone Age. Or Drive-By Truckers. Both make equal sense.
Coming in at a very generous 16 tracks, Country Fuzz offers a lot to love. It builds nicely on their 2017 album, Legacy, which was similarly rocking. And if there’s still any doubt about their talent, consider this: the band figured into a second season episode of the soap-opera Nashville, where Rayna Jaymes, the label-owning lead, is trying to sign the real-life band to her fledgling label. Without pretending to understand the intricacies of product placement and synergistic brand partnerships, it’s still subversive that of all of the bands that could have been featured on a network TV show, someone affiliated with such a middle-of-the-road one picked The Cadillac Three, a complexly heavy band. But what’s even more amazing is they fit in perfectly. Because who doesn’t love some fuzzy country music?