The Lonetones Take Flight on Canaries

The Lonetones’ new CD, Canaries, marks an evolution in the music of the locally well-known string band. Steph Gunnoe, who wrote most of the songs on the album, has an unusual baby-doll singing voice, something like a soprano proving she can sing falsetto as well as any guy. Its overt innocence sometimes seems to conceal some deeper melancholy beneath the surface, a singing through trauma. Making sense of her lyrics may require a few more listens; for now it works to think of her voice as a soprano sax, enjoyable as instrumental jazz. It’s disarming, beguiling, sometimes hypnotic, though it flies within a narrow range. That limitation, combined with the persistent freight-train rhythms of the percussion which urges most of the tunes along, can make some of the cuts sound like new stanzas for the same long song. Hardly a complaint for those of us who are suckers for it, and there are exceptions. The maybe too-handy word “Appalachian” has been applied to their music, befitting of Sean McCullough’s mandolin, maybe, but Lissa McLeod’s accordion pops up here and there, and crypto-jazzman Phil Pollard chips in some vibraphone on several cuts; other cuts also feature surprising electronic sound effects. The title track, maybe the most habit-forming of the songs, opens with broadcast distortion a la “Mexican Radio.” “Blue Vinyl (turns my baby on),” a Sean McCullough contribution, stands apart with a systemic minimalism of overlaid instrumentation (McCullough plays piano on that one, with Pollard on vibes, but there’s more) that sounds like a flight in the direction of alt-rock credibility.

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Comments » 1

amckittrick writes:

Thanks for the review of the Lonetones' new CD, Canaries. I am more than a little disappointed, though, at how the reviewer completely passes over what is the centerpiece of this important band's music -- the lyrics. It's a shame that a writer so concerned with place and history should overlook his fellow birds of a feather, since Gunnoe’s writing has much to say about place and history and how these forces combine to forge the Appalachian character. Her lyrics artfully, honestly, and compassionately (without the sentimentality and nostalgia that often define modern string band “Americana” lyrics) speak about the difficulties involved in navigating between the two worlds of what was and what is Appalachia (specifically, West Virginia) and how important big mouths are when it comes to securing a future where not only these beautiful mountains of ours but our equally beautiful and mysterious souls will not be blown to bits and flattened by greed, hubris, and apathy.

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