Ohio band Southeast Engine releases what could be the first truly outstanding release of 2009.
Weeks spent attempting to distill what the Band would sound like, were they recording and vital right now, is time well spent frankly. It is the past time of many music fan and writer. The magical combination of the vocals of Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Levon Helm have influenced low-fi records by bands all over the world. The lyrical content, its own pilgrimage to find the soul of America, is worthy of volumes. Far less frequent, however, is to find a band that wears those influences on their sleeves and yet still finds a way to be unique. This is the exact trajectory that Southeast Engine is on and continues to pursue with their latest release, From the Forest to the Sea.
Recorded in a small abandoned school house (Big Pink anyone?), this record picks up where their 2007 release, Wheel Within a Wheel, left off. An Ohio band co-founded by Adam Remnant and Leo DeLuca, Southeast Engine is following that path that was laid before them. The recording itself was done directly to analogue and every creak in the floorboards seem not only included but organic to the process. Jesse Remnant on bass and Bill Methany on keyboards join the elder Remnant and DeLuca at filling out the live sound.This time in, Adam Remnant's vocals carry the record. You won’t find three voices blending together like they did on The Band. Remnant instead synthesizes the three. He reaches high highs in tracks like “The Forest II” and mournful lows on tracks like “Law Abiding Citizen”. His material, too, is like his Canadian influences, focused on exploring the nature of relationships. He captures despondency and surrender with a tone that would be welcome in traditional Bluegrass.
Southeast Engine is, however, anything but one note. From the Forest to the Sea has its share of southern rockers. “Black Gold” uses every instrument in the room, a series of Rolling Stones-like “Woo Woo’s” and a hook that buries itself into your subconscious. While it may be Remnant’s vocals that leap to your ears first, “Quest for Noah’s Ark” proves that he is in capable company both instrumentally and vocally. A slower track, the emphasis is on harmony and a gospel inspiration. It would not be out of place on a Flying Burritos Brothers record. The hereafter is a theme that the band finds itself returning to quite often, as when Remnant bemoans his life in “Preparing for the Flood”. The instrumental work turned in by Methany and former member Michael Lachman are note perfect in nearly every instance. Where Wheel Within a Wheel seemed to lose some focus toward its conclusion, From the Forest to the Sea is an accomplishment from start to finish.
Southeast Engine has been championed in the past by Charlie Bissell and his band, The Wrens. This obviously had something to do with their appearance on the Misra label. The respect appears to be mutual .While getting help landing a distribution deal is a plus, it is clear that Bissell found soul mates when it came to emphasizing quality material with a staggering live show. Southeast Engine have undoubtedly been good students as the set that they turned in at South by Southwest 2008 was one of the more talked about showcases of the week. From the Forest to the Sea is the sound of a band very sure of their direction and of themselves. Coming so quickly on the heels of Wheel Within a Wheel, indications are that there is much to look forward to from Southeast Engine.