Review By Steven Stone
Cadillac Sky ranks as the most eclectic band on Ricky Skaggs' record label. Although they categorize themselves as "outlaw acoustic music," Cadillac Sky aren't the kind of band that yells obscenities or tries to get up in your face. They may include Radiohead and Gnarles Barkley along with Earl Scruggs and Alison Krauss as inspirations, but their music is far closer to roots bluegrass than pop poop.
This five-piece band is fronted by thirty-three year-old mandolinist/vocalist Bryan Simpson, who wrote eleven of the fourteen songs on Gravity's Our Enemy. He's joined by Matt Menfee on banjo, piano, and vocals, Mike Jump on guitar and vocals, Ross Holmes on fiddle, viola, guitar and vocals, and Andy Moritz on upright bass, cello, and vocals. One visit to their homepage and you can see this isn't your average bluegrass band. You're greeted by an invitation to play their online video game (a simple variation on Space Invaders) and instead of the usual directory with bios and discographies you must negotiate your way through a moderately inscrutable graphic interface. Their My Space page is equally quirky, with pictures of wookies and walruses vying with band pix and videos for monitor-space. All this eclectic imagery serves as a visual corollary for their music. The members of Cadillac Sky may be acoustic bluegrass musicians but they draw heavily from contemporary culture for inspiration. Bryan Simpson admits, "We definitely have progressive leanings, but we are trying to find our own voice and not be flimsy retreads of New Grass Revival or Nickel Creek." Unlike these bands Cadillac Sky has a more gritty organic and macho edge. Instead of "Ode to a Butterfly," Cadillac Sky serves up "The Wreck" and "Thank You Esteban." The latter is a romping instrumental that has nothing to do with the late-night infomercial guitar-slinger, but does have a rolling melody line as fluid as Nickel Creek's "Ode."
Given Ricky Skaggs' strong fundamentalist leanings how did a band as radical as Cadillac Sky wind up on his label? Bryan Simpson's explanation is simple. "When Ricky called me the first thing he talked about was the spiritual side of our music. It is a reflection of who we are. We're all believers and so there's an undertone when we write our songs that just comes out." But atheists need not worry about forced conversion. Gravity's Our Enemy hasn't a single hymn, gospel song, or mention of the big fellow upstairs. Cadillac Sky's spiritual center may guide their music and lives, but it's not worn on their sleeves.
Bill Monroe often talked about how bluegrass music had to evolve to remain vibrant. His last studio recordings included ambient sounds such as seagulls in "My Last Days on Earth" and studio effects. Cadillac Sky may be the first true 21st century bluegrass band. Their music embraces all the traditional fundamentals but includes and acknowledges today's technological world. This combination produces music every bit as powerful as anything from the Big Mon himself.