Billy Caldwell,
Out of My League
(self-produced, 2006)

I could say "if you've heard one country album, you've heard them all," but I don't know if that's even true. In the case of Billy Caldwell's Out of My League, I imagine the music is quite typical of any country/singer-songwriter's first attempt at recording. Rather than evoking open plains or the rolling hills of the front range as do musicians like Jimmy Dale Gilmore, John Denver and Neil Young, or simply offering a rockin' good time (or so I hear) like such artists as Garth Brooks or Shania Twain, Out of My League brings to mind men basking in the blue neon glow of the bar, gathering after their weekly game of hardball, all still clothed in smelly uniforms and dusty sneakers. I suppose this bar is in Vermont, for that's where Caldwell is currently living and playing the local bar circuit.

The title track and opening song promises to become catchy after about the sixth time you hear it. However, the only reason you would need to hear it six times is so you could hope to find something to say about it should such a necessity arise. Save the beautiful and melancholic violin of Colin James McCaffrey (without whom this whole album would be a waste of time), this song sounds like it belongs in a beer commercial. However, I don't think contemporary advertising is in such a desperate state that it would make use of such sloppily mixed metaphors betwixt love and baseball. What we're expected to believe is that with one woman's love, this fellow can go from being a bat boy to a real man player: "Now I'm trotting round the bases at a pretty steady rate / Feeling like a bat boy finally standing at the plate... / Out of my league and into her glove / Sliding in headfirst, falling in love."

And judging from half the other tunes on the album, what we seem to have here are the half-hollow confessions of a player. Whereas "Dissatisfaction" seems to be a sweet and honest look at love and Caldwell's attempts to find such, I cannot help but think every woman mentioned on the album is a different one. I don't intend to be so puritanical, though. These lyrics contain a particular vulnerability that seems to otherwise belie the album's sound and appearance. Assuming they haven't been written just to be written, some of these lines are almost tearjerkers: "Thinking about all the women I lost / In my desperate search to be loved." And in the next verse, perhaps redundantly: "All of these years I've been pushing away / The love I needed close by." One such tale is recalled in the sweet lines of "Evangeline's Tree." Again, the vocals and guitar strumming in this song would be empty and lost without the violin's saving grace.

"Dissatisfaction" is the closest thing this album offers to a dance song. Mike Albee's snare drum keeps a nice beat (albeit, it sounds a bit like a military march, but perhaps such pays homage to Caldwell's commissioned days in the U.S. Navy). I imagine Caldwell can really get the bar crowd into it with the repetition of "I start laughing when I want to cry." As far as the listener getting into it from playing this CD, I'd be surprised to see how many of them (outside of Caldwell's close friends and family) will summon enough patience to get through the entire thing. Don't get me wrong, I did; but I wish not to have to repeat the songs any more times in order to find something additional to say.

It's not that the music is bad -- it's simply lacking in anything approaching originality. This six-song EP contains typically country songs of love and love lost. Perhaps he did himself a disfavor by recording so few songs. Had there been more, maybe something fresh would have raised its head out of the muck. We've all heard these tunes many times before -- in one way or another -- and nothing new is offered here. Though (and there's that question I can't help but ask) if you like its flow and it makes you whistle or dance or even smile, then what difference does it make how many times it's been done?

If you are afraid to make a monetary commitment to this album (which, you could guess, I wouldn't recommend), I advise sampling some of the songs on Caldwell's website.

by Kevin Shlosberg
14 April 2007

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