The Cadillac Three
Thursday 8:00pm - 9:30pm
The Cadillac Three is an American rock band from Nashville.
Sometimes change is so gradual that it barely registers, and sometimes it’s like slamming into a brick wall. Ask the Cadillac Three: in 2020 the Nashville trio of Jaren Johnston, Neil Mason, and Kelby Ray released a pair of albums in Country Fuzz and Tabasco & Sweet Tea, then entered a season of dramatic upheaval that left them reeling.
“We put out 27 songs in one year. It was like, let’s give people a breather. Let’s give us a breather,” Johnston says. “We were coming off COVID and then my dad passed away. It’s a whole different life now. Talk about having some shit to write about.”
The ACM-nominated group’s sixth studio album, The Years Go Fast, is the product of coming through those trials and emerging on the other side — battle-scarred, a little older, a little wiser, and more willing to be vulnerable. It’s expansive in sound, reflective of the way Cadillac Three continue to tinker with their swaggering brand of country-rock, but it still sounds like only the three of them can.
“This record does have a lot of growth, a lot of hurt and heartbreak,” says Mason, the group’s drummer. “We are a little more grown up now, but we’re still doing the same thing we were doing in the beginning.”
The Years Go Fast is a statement about big change, but it’s also about the ways friendship, love, and family are anchors when everything starts to fall apart. The group’s three members were high school friends in Nashville and have played in bands together for nearly 20 years. While making the album, Steel player Ray shared an old photo of the three of them loading their gear with a caption that read “the years go fast,” a reference to an older song by the Jane Shermans that they all liked.
“We look the same, but obviously we’re fighting gravity at this point,” Johnston says. “Neil looks the most the same,” Ray adds. They ended up repurposing that song, “Young and Hungry,” by adding the story of Jaren and his wife to the verses. The result is a triumphant, exhilarating banger that connects the Cadillac Three of yore to the present.
The painful loss of Johnston’s father, former Grand Ole Opry drummer Jerry Ray Johnston, looms large over The Years Go Fast. “This Town Is a Ghost” points out the visual reminders that appear everywhere now that he’s gone. The deeply moving “Pistols on the Levee,” which closes the album, recalls memories of visiting Louisiana with his dad when he was younger, and how he’s continuing that tradition with his own child. “’Pistols’ is so cool,” Johnston says. “It hits me so hard because I know my dad would’ve loved that song.”
Cadillac Three fans are used to hearing the band being brash and loud, which they do on tunes like “Hillbilly,” which features Elvie Shane and Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor. But now the trio is also finding the power in blending their volume with vulnerability. “You can only do this for so long without showing that side,” Johnston says. “Everybody’s human. Everybody has hurt. Everybody loves somebody.”
Johnston lets his guard down and explores love and partnership in several songs. “Love Like War,” a grungy number that shifts into a crushingly heavy outro, was written late at night after Johnston and his wife Evyn had been arguing. “At the time I wrote it, we were going nuts,” Johnston says. “I was a mess, just depressed. It was the middle of COVID with my kid in kindergarten, and I was having anxiety over that. It was so much. You put two people who’ve been together for 20 years into that blender, you get a fight.”
There’s intense devotion in the restless rocker “Double Wide Grave,” which was written while processing the death of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins. Songs like “The Worst, ”The Torch” (which features some nifty guitar from Charlie Worsham), and “Comin’ Down from You” examine love from different angles. “Comin’ Down from You” was one of the first songs Johnston texted to Mason, who tends to be a tough critic. “I’ve written so many hit songs and sometimes he literally won’t reply,” Johnston says. “If you get silence, it’s so defeating. It’s like,
‘Oh, I guess we aren’t as close as I thought we were.’” This time, Mason texted back immediately.
While the changes that shaped The Years Go Fast were often sudden and shocking, the group’s sound has shifted in slightly more subtle fashion. There are still thunderously heavy half-time breakdowns that nod to their roots, but each album offers a new glimpse into what sounds have captured the group’s attention, whether it’s the organic funk of Tabasco & Sweet Tea or the pronounced metal influences on The Years Go Fast. The fans tend to eat it up, but it’s never done in the name of fan service.
Johnston and Mason frequently write songs for other artists, and Johnson has notched 10 country Number Ones outside the band. He notes that it never works for the band to think about what might work on radio. “Anytime we have tried to chase anything, we have ultimately failed,” he says. “It’s the times when we step out and put our hearts on the road so people can drive over them, that’s where we win.”
And that’s what The Years Go Fast ultimately does. Hearts are on the line, bleeding from loss and beating for connection. It’s a blood-and-guts study of love, friendship, and resilience, but one that didn’t come easy.
“It took a lot of effort and a lot of time, but I’m really proud of the way it turned out,” Ray says. Mason agrees. “This is the hardest album we’ve made by far,” he says.
The Years Go By is a gripping document of that difficult time of change and aversity for The Cadillac Three. Their lives inevitably look a little different now. In reality, they’re changing all the time, like everyone else, but they’ve managed to hang on to that same spark that ignited them back when they were just kids trying to make their way in the music industry.
“We’re three kids from Nashville who have gotten C-plus famous and we’re still trying to do it,” Johnston says. “We’re giving our real lives, with a side of fuck you.”