Sera Cahoone: Deer Creek Canyon

Photo: Hilary Harris

Sera Cahoone is back with new alt-country songs that sound beautiful but are too measured to really catch fire.

Sera Cahoone

Deer Creek Canyon

Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2012-09-25
UK Release Date: 2012-10-01

I fell in “like” right away with the new record by Seattle singer-songwriter Sera Cahoone. Love, though? Still not quite there.

Deer Creek Canyon, Cahoone’s third solo effort, delivers more of the understated indie-country-folk that has made her a fixture in the Seattle scene. (Cahoone first established herself in that city by playing drums for bands like Carissa’s Weird and Band of Horses.) The songs are moody and relatively quiet affairs built around acoustic guitar and rustic accents – banjo and pedal steel. Drums appear here and there to provide subtle propulsion. Strings float in like an autumn breeze.

The music, as pretty as it is throughout, rightly takes a back seat to Cahoone’s striking voice. There are hints of Beth Orton and Sarah McLachlan there, but Cahoone’s voice is a bit huskier. She uses it to nice effect on Deer Creek Canyon, which is full of yearning – yearning for love, yearning for home.

In the title track, named after the Colorado canyon near where Cahoone grew up, the narrator pines for a place and lover she left behind. “All the love I have here, sometimes it is just not enough,” Cahoone sings, and then later: “Deer Creek Canyon’s where I’m from / And it’s where you are, still.”

In “Every Little Word”, an estranged lover is beckoned back with a gentle reprimand: “You always had to know what’s in my head / But there ain’t no reason why not to believe every little word I said.” The simmering ballad “And Still We Move” brings us into the fresh aftermath of a broken relationship: “I’ve got your pictures spread out on the floor / All of your letters I can’t put away / I’m trying hard not to erase all of you.”

Deer Creek Canyon is full of songs to curl up with. They evoke the power of place, the shadowy dangers of relationships. They provide a good soundtrack for a rainy afternoon or a solitary walk at dawn. So what keeps me from giving myself completely to this record – mind, heart and soul? I think it’s because there’s something cold at the heart of Deer Creek Canyon. Cahoone’s vocals often come wrapped in a ghostly echo, making it sound like she’s singing in a cavernous hall. More importantly, the music is precise and pristine to the point of being clinical. Every pluck of banjo, every whine of pedal steel, every vocal phrase feels obsessively groomed, rehearsed. As I listen I keep waiting for Cahoone and her band to go off-book, to grab me around the throat with a ragged musical flourish or a from-the-gut primal yowl. That moment never comes, though, and my admiration for the songs remains at arm’s length.

Am I being too harsh? Maybe. I don’t know. This record confounded me a bit. (If that’s not already obvious.) Cahoone is a talented musician and writer, no doubt. And I’m glad I’ve been able to spend time with Deer Creek Canyon. But for now I think I’m keeping this album in the “friend” pile, while I continue to look for true love elsewhere.

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