I had a driveway moment in my car the other night. One of those strange happenings that only seem to occur when you listen to public radio or really good music. The sticky Ohio heat wrapped around me as I just sat in my driveway with the windows down, the music up, and the lights off. The train-like drum work of “Red Lake Shore” overtook me as I helplessly swayed back and forth in my seat. Canary from Southeast Engine is an album filled with these potential driveway moment songs.
Southeast Engine’s music is a strange reflection of the juxtaposition that takes place in southern Ohio. An area that at times seems to be bustling with life, but other times seems to have never gotten over the Great Depression. They do an amazing job mixing traditional acoustic and modern instruments to craft a unique canvas on which they paint a beautiful picture with their warm vocals. Unlike some other folk-inspired indie-rock acts, there is never that feeling of ‘putting it on’. From top to bottom, Canary feels authentic and original in what it’s attempting.
The album, which is a chronicle of people from Ohio’s Hocking Hills attempting to survive the Great Depression, starts off with strong with “The Curse of Cannanville”. The song almost acts as an overture as it sets the tone for the rest of the album with its slow folk beginning, which then breaks into a double-time, resulting in some incredibly catchy folk-rock. Adam Remnant’s vocals are almost as if you combined Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse) and Neil Young’s voices, then rolled them in molasses –they’re jagged with a warm earthy feel and sweet without tasting over-refined.
Possibly the best thing about Southeast Engine’s vocals are the fact that Adam’s brother Jesse provides the bulk of harmony. Many will tell you about the wonders that familial harmonies can bring, but I don’t think it can be better illustrated than with the track “Cold Front Blues”. I can only imagine that the tight harmonies that the Remnant Brothers achieve in the chorus of this song are the type of harmonies that Lennon and McCartney heard in their head.
“1933 (The Great Depression)” is by far the most rock-and-roll selection on the album, and shows the band has some serious edge to go along with its silky folk musings. Kicking off with some electric guitar strumming, the whole band soon hits like a nine-pound hammer. Adam channels the best of Neil Young as Billy Matheny lays down some quality organ and piano work while resisting the urge to overplay, despite the track’s high energy.
Possibly the song with the most heart is “At Least We Have Each Other”. I think everyone can relate to coming upon hard times that would be worse if not for the company of a loved one. The organ Matheny provides for this track nearly melts your face off with a passionate solo that provides proper build-up to a turnaround. It’s a well crafted song that is equally well performed as it builds power as it climbs to its climax.
Full-Length Sample Track: [wpaudio url="http://www.guerrillageek.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/06-Red-Lake-Shore.mp3" text="Red Lake Shore" dl="0"]
While “Cold Front Blues” might be the song that got my attention, “Red Lake Shore” might be the track that seals the deal on Canary. With a heavy guitar and organ opening, the song quickly make a left-hand turn. Leo DeLuca’s brush work is divine, sounding like an angelic steam locomotive that drives the track with an infectious groove. The lyrics are beautiful and mysterious, reflecting on thoughts about the nature of the human soul — spirituality and life after death that often accompany the loss of a loved one. In the end, all the pieces come together in a song that works on every level.
Concept albums are a tricky breed that can easily hurt the creative more than help. Canary defies the odds and is easily becoming one of my favorite albums to come out over the past few years. The music is good enough to make this a car album; the lyrics are entertaining enough to make it worth dedicated listening in the bedroom. The pacing of the album has a great flow and never overwhelms you with more than you can handle as a listener.
Overall, Southeast Engine accomplishes more than most well-known acts could ever hope for as they successfully capture the feeling of living in Southern Ohio, not only in the depression, but today as well. It’s a great album that I would recommend to anyone that likes a healthy dose of folk with their rock… or is it a healthy dose of rock with their folk?