Lately I’ve felt like the head of the Carissa’s Wierd alumni association. I’ve written reviews for the latest Band of Horses album, the debut of Grand Archives and now the second solo release for Carissa’s drummer Sera Cahoone. Of course, I’m sure Sub Pop feels that way as well. In this case, the famous Seattle label is like the smart kid at the birthday party with a bucket under the piñata, waiting for the individual pieces of candy to fall into his clutches after the Papier-mâché source is long since ruptured. As an opener for Okkervil River in Seattle early last summer, Cahoone made her mark on area listeners as the crowd, eager in anticipation of the dramatic stylings of Will Sheff, found themselves entranced by what appeared to our own Mars Simpson as `Neko Case’s little sister.’ When I learned that Cahoone was headlining a show with opener Grand Archives, the band fronted by Mat Brooke, the lead vocalist of Carissa’s Wierd and half of the songwriting duo of the initial inception of Band of Horses, I thought it was a typo. Surely, Grand Archives was the headliner, no? No. And after hearing the exquisite Only as the Day Is Long, I completely understood why.
Not very many drummers end up as successful songwriters and frontmen or women, but of course, as I write this sentence, Don Henley, Phil Collins and Dave Grohl come to mind. They might be exceptions to the rule, and Ms. Sera is a huge exception. Avoid all drummer jokes with Ms. Cahoone as she fits none of the stereotypes or jokes (i.e. someone who `hangs out with talented musicians’). In this case, the `drummer,’ (at least formerly), is the talented musician and songwriter. The one word that continues to spring to mind in reference to the `country noir’ stylings of this artist is `authentic.’ Cahoone is the real deal; you can bank on that. Now, what else should I expect from someone who played her first bar gig at the age of twelve?
The wonder of Sera Cahoone is in the idea of understatement. In songs such as the stunning “Baker Lake” and “Runnin’ Your Way,” the requisite plucked banjo notes juxtaposed with the soulful pedal steel set the scene, yet never overpowered the main event, Cahoone’s smoky vocals. And even with the vocals, Sera isn’t as melodramatic as Cat Power, nor as yearning as Neko Case. She displays likenesses to both, but also with the delicate whisperings of Sam Beam. There’s nothing flashy, showy or produced about Sera Cahoone. What you see and what you hear is what you get, and that’s way more than enough for me. Listening to Only as the Day Is Long over and over again made me want to wrap myself up in Cahoone’s voice and music and simply wallow in its warmth.
If you don’t fall in love with this album upon the first folky strains of “You Might As Well,” then you might as well have ice in your veins. “Slow down, honey I can’t think” is how she opens “Baker Lake” and that’s essentially how I felt in being utterly overwhelmed by Cahoone. “Everyone’s saying the best is already gone, but I know what we got comin’ round,” she sings later in the song, and she might as well be singing about herself in relation to today’s indie country music scene. Cahoone proves the best isn’t already gone, that she’s just hitting her stride. As a few songs washed over me like a mountain waterfall, I realized that although each song was incredibly well constructed and delicately played, the drums were so subtle as to be almost primitive. It takes a lot for a drummer to restrain her original learned instrument. “Runnin’ Your Way” made a big impact on me with the chorus of “Darlin’ life just ain’t right, but it’s about to go runnin’ your way / Cause you’ve got so much left in you for the big ol’ world to see.” As I’ve had a long bout of bad luck recently, it felt as if Sera were singing directly to me.
It’s rare in my case to listen to a particular album repeatedly after I’ve already reviewed it. It’s just the nature of the business. I have a limited amount of hours in the day and am continually listening to new stuff I will eventually write about. But there are times when an album will make such an impression that it just never leaves the rotation. These are invariably the ones that end up on our end of the year list. I’m sure that I’ll be listening to a heavy dose of Sera Cahoone in the coming months, and when I’m not listening to the album, her songs will be bouncing around in my brain anyway.
Cat Power- You Are Free
Gillian Welch- Revival
Iron & Wine- The Creek Drank the Cradle