Singer-songwriter Jud Caswell Photo by Neale Eckstein

Lifelong Mainer and singer-songwriter Jud Caswell is on a creative roll. In March, he released “Live at the Seagull Shop Restaurant.” The album went to No. 1 on the Folk Alliance International (FIA) chart in March and landed at No. 5 for the month of April on the National American College and Community Radio Chart (NACC).

March is also, of course, when the pandemic hit Maine in earnest, and Caswell’s response has been to post daily videos on his Facebook page (facebook.com/judcaswellmusic), calling the clips the Morning Cordial. As of last week, he’d shared more than 80 of them. It’s been a mix of originals and covers, including “Swordfishtrombones” by Tom Waits and “Back to the Old House” by The Smiths. With each song posted, Caswell collects donations and gives half of them to local causes, including Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program. So far, that’s amounted to more than $2,500.

Caswell said the daily videos are fun for him and also give him a sense of purpose. “It’s been a really valuable chance to make music, stay connected and feel like I was helping out even a little bit, by offering a bit of comfort with the songs and a bit of support through some great charities.”

Image courtesy of Jud Caswell

On June 16, Caswell released “Morning Cordial Vol. 1” containing 16 tracks of all originals, some new, others unreleased and a few older ones re-imagined. The album kicks off in the best way possible, with a song called “The Great Divide.” The track is the tonic I’ve been looking for to quell some of rage about the state of this country and what’s so effective is that the song doesn’t take sides. This verse, in particular, hits home:

Yes I know, you didn’t start this fight
And I’ve heard the other side is more to blame
And I know that there’s a wrong and right
And we can’t afford to lose this game
But we’re all losing just the same

I breezed through the other 14 songs on the “Cordial” album and was impressed with so many things: Caswell’s keen mastery of the guitar, his introspective yet universal lyrics on songs like “Keep Walking,” “Vincent” and “Still Life” and his crystalline voice. “Cordial” is also home to the quietly stinging love song “Immune” which cuts deep with lines like “All alone you made us simple once again, reducing us to friends / You drew the curtain closed.” Ouch. But what a gorgeous song.

Caswell was born in Belfast, grew up in Topsham and currently lives in Brunswick. During the summer after his senior year of high school, he got his hands on an old Yamaha classical guitar when his aunt and uncle left Maine for Oregon. It changed everything because before that he was playing a far inferior department store one. “I knew a couple of chords before that time, but getting a ‘real’ guitar made all the difference in the world,” said Caswell.

Caswell started playing guitar in the first place because he wanted to write songs, and he wrote his first one with that Yahama. He described his college experience at Dartmouth as being a good place to learn to play, sing and write because there were so many talented student musicians. “Hearing songs written by friends of mine was incredibly inspiring, really made me want to do it myself.”

Caswell grew up listening to Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Jim Croce, Don McLean, Bob Dylan, and Crosby Stills and Nash (and Young). He also was exposed to plenty of Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Bok. “Those artists planted the seeds at a really young age,” he said.

As for influences, Caswell mentioned John Gorka, Billy Bragg, Shawn Colvin, Richard Thompson, Bruce Cockburn and Indigo Girls. These artists led him to others like Greg Brown, Ellis Paul and Peter Mulvey and eventually Caswell started playing festivals and became part of the very scene he loved so much. Along the way he got to meet some of his favorite newer influences including Jonathan Byrd, Anais Mitchell and Meg Hutchinson.

Caswell met Amy Speace at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 2006, the same year he won the festival’s prestigious New Folk Award. Speace reached out a few months later with an invitation to co-write a song with her. At the time, Speace was signed to Judy Collins’ Wildflower label. Caswell and Speace’s song, “Weight of the World,” made it onto Collins’ 2010 album “Paradise.” In fact, there was significant talk of Caswell’s 2007 independent release “Blackberry Time” being re-released on Collins label but in the end, Caswell said it wasn’t the right move for him at the time. “I had two very little kids at home and was realizing more and more how important it was to just be here.”

Caswell does, however, have a total of five albums available, and you can find them on his website judcaswell.com.

You can see Caswell live on Saturday as part of the Chocolate Church’s ongoing Real Outdoor concert series in and around Bath. The audience is limited to 50 people, so don’t wait to grab tickets.

Jud Caswell
6 p.m. Saturday. Bath area private residence (back yard), $18, must purchase tickets in advance. chocolatechurcharts.org


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.