REVIEW: Southeast Engine “Canary”

Canary is the album I have been waiting for Southeast Engine to make. It is really good. Seriously. I have always had a great deal of respect for this band and Adam Remnant’s songwriting, but they’ve never before grabbed my attention the way this record does. In my almost 10 years in Athens these guys have always been a huge part of the music community here, but this one hits me all the way through. As someone that has seen this band dozens of times and heard their recordings over their career, I can honestly say that with Canary, Southeast Engine finally finds what I think they’ve been looking for.

The tale told over Canary‘s 11 songs is one of America during the Great Depression, specifically the story of a miner in my own adopted home of Athens County who is struggling through a particularly rough patch of his existence. A story of poverty and hopelessness that really turns out to be one of searching and understanding. Rem’s songs follow through those themes of closed mines and mills and a beautiful and storied landscape and culture that have been stolen away. It is that underlying hope that frames Canary, strength found in love, family, and the importance of home and tradition. “Sure things could be better, at least we have each other.” A story steeped in history, but as contemporary as they come.

Canary‘s production is beautiful (thanks to Josh and the fine folks of 3 Elliott Studios here in town), but its the songs themselves that carry the record and the band. The songs are intense, musically and lyrically and lush instrumentation is added from peripheral instruments (banjos, fiddles, harmonicas) and from rollicking, fuzzy versions of their basic setup (Adam’s badass guitar solo on “1933 Great Depression” and Billy’s sweet organ on “At Least We Have Each Other”) for the more uptempo numbers. “The Curse of Canaanville”, “Mountain Child”, and the beautiful plea “Adeline of the Appalachian Mountains” showcase both the depth of Remnant’s songwriting and voice while showing the range of the band itself.

Another of my personal favorite Athens songwriters, Mike Elliott said today “Southeast Engine has begun the take over. review after review, blog after blog, I see things like this..” and then links to a review of a recent Chicago show with the headline “Southeast Engine’s show at Schuba’s almost too much to take”. I hope the reviews keep rolling in like that from the corners of this country, this album deserves it.

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