Canary In the Coalmine’s Who Fears the Devil? is wickedly well done
If there are sirens that lead us through trying times, it may be Jessica Pounds and Sandy Wicker, a.k.a. Canary in the Coalmine. Their latest collaboration, Who Fears the Devil? is a collection of ten songs whose recurring theme is hope scratched from heartbreak; redemption from destruction. It’s not hard to follow them through trials of fire as their seamless harmonies beckon as well as soothe.
Crafted as Americana, the songs are a rich mix of country, bluegrass, old spirituals, and Appalachian folk laced with the vocal traditions of Dolly Parton and Skeeter Davis. Pounds and Wicker’s vocals are more nuanced and often take an edge, making them go down like fine Kentucky bourbon.
To their credit and testimony as serious artists, they took their compositions to legendary producer Matt Grondin at The Parlor Recording Studio in New Orleans, where, Ellis Marsalis said, “Music seeps up from the streets.” (In the interest of full disclosure, this writer is a musician and New Orleans native who has worked at that studio.)
Grondin, Pounds and Wicker have left nothing out of the brew; alternately seducing with gentle harmonies and then buffeting with bluesy exhortations. “Of Course Not,” starts with a ukulele and Wurlitzer intimating a soft Hawaiian ballad as Pounds looks back at the painful signs of a relationship falling apart. The song then shifts to a powerful reframe, “I can’t breathe,” powered by syncopated piano, dirty guitar and drums.
In the driving 4/4 timed, “Lonely Bones,” the effective counter play between the metered verse and syncopated chorus (no doubt a result of Grondin’s New Orleans’ Second Line rhythmic influences) is employed again. Pounds shows the depth of her lyricism in a literary style akin to the Southern Gothic of Flannery O’Conner. Her opening lines of the song could be those from one of the great Southern writer’s short stories and portend trouble as surely as a black cat crossing your path.
“I set out searching to heal these lonely bones, looking for savior I could call my own.”
“The symbolic comparison of a river’s drowning, cold, rushing waters to baptismal waters is to liken destruction to redemption,” says Pounds, in reference to the song’s lyrics. “But in the end it’s about the story, which is the theme throughout the album.”
Stories told by two songwriters who have no doubt looked the devil in the eye and lived to sing about it.
Written by Mike Bernos