Transitioning from one way of life to another doesn’t always go well. Whether that’s shifting from religious cult to popular culture, side player to center stage, or classical musician to secular songwriter, not everyone can handle their world being turned on its ear. Caleb Elliott is not everyone. And, based on his debut solo album, Forever to Fade, he’s taking all the changes in stride… and an easy, solid stride, at that.
As the cello-playing son of a preacher man, Elliott grew up in Louisiana immersed in a near-cult religion, eventually following music’s lead to college, cover bands, and a career. As a side player, he has supported Dylan LeBlanc, Lera Lynn, Nicole Atkins, John Paul White, and others. As a songwriter, he invokes the same early ’70s sway that makes Neil Young records so timeless.
Produced by Ben Tanner, Forever to Fade leans into sly grooves and cheeky riffs as easily as it does swooping strings and hushed vocals. Without even knowing the lyrics, these songs invoke emotions, as Elliott gets busy telling his story and channeling classic sounds. Some are sentimental, some are sensual, but some are far more pointed than that, though never not hard to enjoy because of Elliott’s nimble way with a song — as a writer, player, and singer.
Halfway through the cycle comes “Till the Tides Turn.” There’s something deeply unflinching about this song, as if it captures a moment of looking in someone’s eyes and knowing a deeper truth than words could ever measure. “I don’t come here to waste your time, talking in riddles unending. Heaven knows that it ain’t my place to question the ways of a child of God,” he sings with a potent insouciance. “I just can’t help but wonder what we’re doing this for. If I could understand it, I could call off the war, settle the score, and be done with it.”
It’s always a testament to an artist’s talents when you can hear their influences peeking, if not pouring, through and, yet, still feel like you’re listening to something fresh and forward-thinking. That’s what’s going on here. From the soulful vibe of “Makes Me Wonder” to the chunky runs of “Forever to Fade” to the ambient swirls of “Black Lungs,” this record makes for a great, easy listen and an even better deep dive.
Somewhere in his timeline, Elliott moved from Louisiana to Alabama, eventually becoming part of the Single Lock Records clan in the Shoals with many of the afore-mentioned artists. This effort proves him a more-than-worthy addition to the group.