In 2016, country music should be considered as mainstream as the next pop radio smash or arena rock anthem. The days of division between fans of various music genres died with the rise of the streaming age, and those needing proof need look no further than a Billboard singles chart. Genre mainstays Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan are battling Drake and Taylor Swift for positions right alongside Cage The Elephant and Panic! At The Disco. Now, more than ever before, it is possible for an artist to leverage the die-hard support of lifelong country fans to reach a bigger audience, and if any one group is likely to pull off such a feat in the remaining months of the year it is undoubtedly the Southern rock stylings of Tennessee natives the Cadillac Three.
On Bury Me In My Boots, the group’s second full-length for Big Machine Records in four years, the Cadillac Three toe the line between radio band and rock underdogs with a precision rarely found in the modern music industry. The group writes about life, death, and the pursuit of a good time, all while constantly referencing their Southern heritage and the pride they feel towards it. The Cadillac Three is no Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I doubt they would ever want to be, but they do serve as a reminder of the way a geography can impact the sound of the record. This album is a product of the South; from the earnest expression of emotions in songs like “Bury Me In My Boots” and “White Lightning,” to the good ol’ boy ruckus found on “The South” (with special guests Dierks Bentley and Florida Georgia Line) and “Soundtrack For A Six Pack,” this record is only possible because of the lives Jaren Johnston (lead vocals, guitar), Kelby Ray (bass guitar, vocals), and Neil Mason (drums, vocals) have lived.
The party songs are as good as any at radio today and I am sure they will perform admirably with good marketing, but for my money the real heart of an album like Bury Me In My Boots resides in the songs you don’t immediately consider to be commercially viable on a massive scale. Tracks like this are rare on Boots, as the Cadillac Three have a knack for hook-laden ear worms regardless of how fast or slow they play, but they do exist. The title track, for example, adds a fun twist to the classic honky-tonk funeral idea in ways not heard since Joe Diffie released “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox” way back in 1993. “Runnin’ Red Lights,” the album closer, tells of how nothing can come between a man and his true love.
If anything can be said against the radio readiness of Bury Me In My Boots it is that the Cadillac Three play it too safe. The band doesn’t have to reinvent southern rock to separate themselves from the competition, but they shouldn’t rely so heavily on tried and true narrative tropes like drinking, pickup trucks, and having your ex-girl take the dog when she leaves to tell their stories. Even if these lines come from a place of truth, they are well-worn staples of country music that do little to help the band further establish what should be a very clear fact that they are destined for massive success in this business. The Cadillac Three only have a finite time to establish themselves as something special in this industry before they’re lumped in with the rest of the nameless and faceless country talent that plays in the background while people go about their days wherever they happen to be while music they are not actively engaged with plays (the supermarket, for example).
Some songs on Bury Me In My Boots work better than others, but the music never flies completely off the rails (though “Peace, Love, and Dixie” pushes tongue-in-cheek lyricism to an extreme). The Cadillac Three have spent the years since their last album building a dedicated following, and I imagine the release of this record will cause the fandom surrounding the band to double or even triple in size by the end of 2016. That said, I do feel there is plenty of room for growth, especially from a lyrics standpoint. If the group can find a way to build on what we find on this record and mix in enough fresh ideas to let us know they are telling their story and theirs alone I wholeheartedly believe the Cadillac Three will be completely unavoidable in a few years’ time.