William M. Matheny II
Morgantown, West Virginia
The Wrens were early fans of Southeast Engine and turned Misra on to the band’s unique independent-folk-rock sound. SEE has seen critical acclaim across the board with their four Misra releases – Canary, From the Forest to the Sea, A Wheel Within a Wheel, and Coming to Terms with Gravity. They’ve been featured on World Cafe with David Dye and their last two records have received “Universal Acclaim” from conglomerate rating site Metacritic.
Southeast Engine | Canannville EP | Biography
“Canaanville, won’t you care for me / like I care for you? / you were once a little thriving town / but now you’re through”
There is truth about American life and there are the lies we tell ourselves. There are stories hard to explain, and stories we prefer not to dwell upon. Today workplaces remain shuttered, jobs moved abroad. In Appalachian country there is talk of ‘retraining the workforce.’ We lament remarkably little about this lost way of life. And then there is Southeast Engine, a proudly working class band that concerns itself in no way with the conventions of our current ‘indie rock scene.’
Southeast Engine’s acclaimed 2011 release Canary was a revelatory reflection on an Appalachian family making ends meet during the our first Great Depression, with ghostly resonances to the same population’s contemporary struggles. Canary was replete with songs of joy in the face of sorrow – meditations on retaining a fleeting way of life still maintaining all of the conviction and jovial camaraderie of a rich culture proud in its traditions despite the long odds posed by a rashly remade society.
On that album, Southeast Engine’s principal singer/songwriter Adam Remnant burnished his credentials as one of our great chroniclers in song. In rendering the terror of near total economic and cultural disenfranchisement, Remnant’s approach was measured and almost journalistic, eschewing polemics and melodrama in favor of an authentic storytelling that only heightened the poignancy of his themes. Remnant’s gimlet eye for these fraying fault lines of American society is abetted to great effect by the accomplished, diverse and spontaneous players behind him. As a unit, Southeast Engine possess a remarkably easy way with a wide variety of musical idioms – integrating elements of soul, bluegrass and folk music into a wholly distinct blend, reflecting the regional traditions alluded to in their songs. As evidenced by their rollicking, celebratory live performances, Southeast Engine are a truly great band whose decade plus experience playing together has endowed the individual members with an almost telepathic sense of unity.
On their new release Canaanville, Remnant continues to expand upon his panoramic exploration of tight knit communities left to wither on the vine. The four track EP is alternately tense, lilting and darkly humorous as it elucidates a teetering community of miners, farmers and rail men hurtling towards an undeserved obsolescence. “Old Oak Tree” is a rueful romance covering two generations, performed with the spirit and abandon worthy of ‘The Gilded Palace Of Sin.’ The tense, tent revival narrative ‘Great Awakening’ contextualizes spirituality amidst desperation behind a ‘Harvest’-style beat and soaring minor to major chorus. The title track marries a raucous barrelhouse feel to a fearful sentiment, suggesting an evening of escapism in the face of looming forces too malignant to fully grasp. ‘C&O Railway’ brings it all back home, telling the story of a railway worker who literally builds the tracks that robs the very town of its lifeblood, carrying away goods and citizens without supplying recompense. It is a tragic song. Complicit in the demise of his own community, the narrator seems to suggest that no one along the line knows what any of it’s worth.
Writing in 1941 about America’s underclass of sharecroppers, James Agee said: “If I could do it, there would be no writing at all. It would be fragments of cloth, bits of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron. As it is though, I will do what little I can in writing.” It is possible that Remnant and Southeast Engine, themselves not famous men, face something like the same dilemma. But in so far as doing what writing can, few have done better.
Southeast Engine | Canary | Biography (companion piece to the Canaanville EP)
“It’s 1933 and the debt collector’s after me”
Southeast Engine’s brilliant new album “Canary” tells the stories of a single Appalachian family holding on through the violent deprivations of the Great Depression. While it just as easily could have been recorded six decades ago, it is replete with ghostly resonances to our contemporary lives.
Principal songwriter Adam Remnant, who’s spent many years in the Appalachian town of Athens, Ohio puts it this way: “In the early part of the 20th century Southeast Ohio was full of little booming mine towns that revolved around the economy of the mines. In general, Appalachia was being exploited for its natural resources for quite a long time, and by the time of the Depression these systems were no longer sustainable.”
Great records transport us immediately to a different place and time. When we hear “Exile On Main Street,” we immediately become denizens of the glorious, desiccated South of France that incubated its genius. To listen to “Canary” is to be a part of the Appalachian experience, both past and present. The remarkable authenticity of writing and execution leaves no doubt as to the source of its profound emotional core. Like The Band, whose retelling of the traumas of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras helped shine a mirror on the violence of the Vietnam era, Southeast Engine has created a record that elucidates our present by referencing our past.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
The detailed narratives and character studies of “Canary” are replete with enormous sadness, humor and acuity. Southeast Engine has transcended the trite conventions of protest music, alluding instead to something deeper, more personal and ultimately more affecting. The injustices experienced by the economically and politically disenfranchised in our society, is a long story, and one seemingly without end. As with later manufacturing hubs like Rochester and Detroit, the end of industry promises slow death for the community itself. In kind, the characters rendered on “Canary” are functionally expendable by the very same society they once embodied and enriched.
Despite it all, “Canary” is a hopeful album – filled with great barrelhouse melodies and brief musical nods to the 1930s era it embodies and describes, a touch reminiscent of Willie Nelson’s brilliant “Red Headed Stranger.” As anyone who has ever experienced real, insoluble poverty knows, there is no glamour. There is only suffering, striving and the desperate hope that hard work will lead to a better life.
No record in recent memory has better articulated these themes than Southeast Engine’s “Canary.”
Bios by Timothy Bracy of The Mendoza Line & Elizabeth Nelson Bracy of NPR
Old Oak Tree from Canaanville
Red Lake Shore from Canary
Quest for Noah’s Ark from From the Forest to the Sea
We Have You Surrounded from A Wheel Within A Wheel
Coming to Terms with Gravity from Coming to Terms with Gravity
The Moon from Love is a Murder, a Mystery of Sorts
- Red Lake Shore – off Canary
- Black Gold – off From the Forest to the Sea
- Holy Ghost – off Coming to Terms with Gravity
Other SEE titles can be purchased –> here
Canary – MSR060
- World Cafe: Next
- Mountain Stage
- Paste — 8.4
- All Music — 4/5
- Pitchfork — 7.3
- The Onion — B+
- No Depression
- Pop Matters — 8/10
From the Forest to the Sea - MSR053
- Metacritic – 84, Universal Acclaim
- Coke Machine Glow – 81%
- Pop Matters - 8.0
- The Onion A.V. Club – B+
- Paste Magazine
A Wheel Within a Wheel - MSR046
Coming to Terms With Gravity - MSR044