Southeast Engine have crafted a prescient reading of a small Appalachian family during the Great Depression on Canary. The album presents itself as scenes and character studies, rather than a narrative. Though based mainly in a folk mode, Southeast Engine explore many styles throughout the album, from the rock stylings of “1933 (Great Depression)”, to the strumming of opener “The Curse of Canannville”. The album’s theme of hope amongst poverty is handled with great depth and even humor. Canary is a literate album, full of great turns of phrase and a even some winking humor.
“Life needs but one seed to grow when the time is right” sings songwriter/guitarist Adam Remnant on “Adeline of the Appalachian Mountains”. It’s the sentiment represented in those words that kept millions of Americans from perishing, and this album is full of that kind of pure, unadulterated hope. Canary is incredibly literate, without being pretentious.
“Red Lake Shore” rambles as a folksy swing with shimmer in its production. The opening of this song is a thing of obtuse beauty. The use of horns provide a flourish to the jaunty tale of waiting that is “Cold Front Blues”. The urgent gospel of “Summer and His Ferris Wheel” is a down home take on a 50’s rockabilly track. Instrumental closer “Sourwood Mountain” is a jamboree complete with fiddles and guitars. All four of these tracks speak to the varied state of the album. The band has a broad palette that they indulge; but rather than feeling overstuffed, the semi genre shifts provide a varied pacing to the story unfolding.
The centerpiece track “New Growth” is a piano driven song featuring off-kilter horns and the heartbreaking refrain of “Oh but just as nature’s intended/New growth is what I’m looking for”. It’s story is a tale of a poor town rebelling and the pacing and dynamics are played out perfectly. They aren’t even close to being overstated – and that is Canary in a nutshell. Southeast Engine have brought a classic story of a struggling family from almost eighty years ago, and made the songs seem entirely alive and relevant.
Sometimes the best albums are pieces of high art to be appreciated from afar. Others are treated like your favorite movies, invoking feelings of when and where you first experienced it. And yet others are treated like books that are so distinct in invoking another time or place that you are escape into them often and without fear. Canary is that kind of album.