Appalachian archivists Southeast Engine are tinged with the fatalistic old-time religion of the region, most notably on 2009’s From the Forest to the Sea, so it’s tempting to see their bloodline in Old Testament terms: Wilco begat The Wrens who begat Southeast Engine. But that would be bearing false witness, or at least making an oversimplification.
While the Wrens championed the Ohio four-piece, helping them sign to Misra in 2006, Southeast Engine’s influences stretch back past than their mentors. With its revved up fiddle, Canary’s lead track “Curse of Canannville” echoes Fisherman’s Blues-era Waterboys. Horns, and plaintive piano on “Cold Front Blues,” take us to territory mapped out by the Band, while “1933 Great Depression” wraps with a rocking coda worthy of the Faces.
Lyrically, that last track cues Canary’s song cycle. References to hard scrabble mountain living and the Depression abound, while FDR gets name checked more than once. But past and present occupy the same space here, so that the darkest days of the ’30s are seen through today’s equally apprehensive prism.
Still, there’s a musty field recording feel to Canary, particularly when the album concludes with old-timey banjo and fiddle stomp “Sourwood Mountain.” But enough gems sparkle amid the coal fields to overcome the curator-like fussiness.