Saturday, December 15, 2007

Southeast Engine

I have a friend who is the director of several homeless shelters in Athens, Ohio. He's the king of a dubious empire, and business is booming. Athens is tucked away in the southeast corner of the state, thirty miles from the West Virginia border. There may be a higher percentage of homeless people in and around Athens, Ohio than in any other town in America. There's a 20,000-student university there, and a few thousand former coal miners who, if they work at all, now work at the Taco Bell on Court Street or the Wal-Mart out on State Street because those are the only jobs to be found. The coal is long gone, and anybody with any sense gets the hell out of Dodge as soon as they clutch that precious degree. It's a wonderful, picturesque college town, and it's a desperate, unforgiving place to make a stand and try to make a life. It's Appalachia and academia, town and tattered gown, and it offers a unique perch from which to articulate the shabbiness.

And perhaps that's why Southeast Engine -- Athens natives a few years removed from the graduation ceremony, and still hanging out in that idyllic little college town -- sound like they do. You can tell that lead singer/songwriter Adam Remnant has his English degree, and he drops enough literary references to make sure you know he’s spent some time in old Ellis Hall. But there’s a restlessness and desperation at the heart of his music that suggests that the old Athens malaise has already set in, and that feeling trapped isn’t the exclusive domain of suburban executives with midlife crises and cherry red sports cars. His band plays what has often been described as Americana, alt-country, roots rock. Pick your label. All I know is that Remnant sounds a lot like Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, that the soulfulness in his world-weary rasp is palpable, and that his band makes the kind of racket that Tweedy and company did before they decided to get all arty and experimental on us and mix in the radio static and amplifier hum.

There are three albums now – Love is a Murder, a Mystery of Sorts, Coming to Terms with Gravity, and the new one, A Wheel Within a Wheel, which is one of my favorite albums of 2007. A few of the songs try too hard. But most of the time Remnant gets it just right, a smart guy hanging out in a place where religious loonies handle snakes, and where nobody can get a job. He’s longing for truth, longing to be someone better than he is, full of faith and doubt, spooked by spirits and spooked by the image that stares back at him from the mirror. He’s a wonderful songwriter, and Southeast Engine is a very fine band.

We stayed up all night talking
Just to understand what goes on
When you're sleepwalking
What goes through your head
Because you say you don't remember
You were walking through the walls
And like a ghost your heart is ancient
But your mind just can't recall
So cover yourself in a long white sheet
And cut two holes for your eyes
Your spirit weeps when your mouth declares
That this life is just to die

And you will not survive the cost of life
You'll be buried in the ground
Or burned into tiny ashes
And swept across the land
But what matters is bound to show somewhere
Your blood will soon transform
Into another form of life
You don't leave you just return
So cover yourself in a long white sheet
And follow the path to the holy sea
Let the water forgive your sin
Until your mind is totally emptied

It's the father, it's the son, it's the holy ghost
This is what I had feared the most
It's the father, it's the son, it's the holy ghost
This is what I had feared the most
This is joy, this is pain, this is relentless
This is stating the obvious
This is joy, this is pain, this is relentless
This is stating the obvious
-- Southeast Engine, "Holy Ghost"


Unknown said...

Hi Andy,

This is wonderful! We are so thankful. Please email sometime at I'd love to hear from you. I hope you're having a wonderful holiday season.

-Leo DeLuca

Scott Meek said...

Just got Wheel Within a Wheel off of Emusic today. I am VERY glad I did. Thanks for turning me on to so much great music Andy!