Sera Cahoone has spent her career flying under the radar. Despite being an integral singer-songwriter in the Seattle music scene, and despite having played with bands like Carissa's Weird and Band of Horses, Cahoone's solo albums have been critically celebrated -- especially 2008's Only As The Day Is Long -- but seemingly heard by few. Her understated knack for Americana-touched folk tunes may account for that, but her carefully detailed and bittersweetly emotive songwriting still deserves more attention than it has received.
Her first album in four years, Deer Creek Canyon, is another solid turn from here, full of shadowy, textured country and folk songs that evoke place awfully well. This trick may seem unsurprising for an album named after the area Cahoone grew up in, but it's an album that seems to be simulataneously about the ties we have to places and people and also the ways in which we can become alienated. "Naked" has Cahoone revealing secrets, becoming vulnerable and feeling all the more isolated for it. "I just cannot speak at all," she admits wearily, "because I'm feeling naked." The dusty gem "Rumpshaker" (no, not that "Rumpshaker"), Cahoone recounts a relationship that seems long gone, with someone "stuck in [their] ways." Twanging ballad "And Still We Move" lists the artifacts left behind after love breaks. "I've got your pictures spread out on the floor," she pines, as she tries "not to erase all of you."
This idea of not losing things, of holding on to the past for better or worse, weaves it way through the entire record. The title track doesn't lament missing home so much as it recognizes the double-edge of wanting to go home again. If there's something that gets in our way more than the past, or keeps us stuck there, it seems to be our words. Cahoone spends a lot of time watching her words fail her or fail others. "Every Little Word" and its overcast counterpart "One to Blame" discuss the consequences of words, how they can inflict hurt, how trust can be a slippery thing to keep steady in a relationship.
So we have the sturdiness of landscape here as the backdrop for various types of personal tumult. If what Cahoone does here isn't new, it still feels fresh. Her songs are clear-eyed and heartfelt, her melodies patient but effective. This combination of firm ground and wandering emotions makes for songs that have a foot planted firmly in country and folk traditions, but that stretched out with warm pedal steel and plunking banjo. If Only As The Day Is Long was full of wanderlust, the songs themselves were also lean, coated in fine dust. These songs are thick with mud and much more expansive in their palate.They're anchored to place and yet stretch the boundaries around them.
This doesn't always stop some songs from feeling like they trudge a bit too slowly like the do in, say, "Anyway You Like" or "Here With Me". In these moments, the bittersweet tones feel a bit too sweet, a bit too comfortable on their own turn. Overall,though, Cahoone has delivered another confident, solid record. These songs are close studies of the dark corners of our heart and the even darker corners of the places we've lived, the attics we've stored our relics from our murky pasts. in Deer Creek Canyon, home is always there over our shoulder, but we don't look back at it, not all the way, but rather just hope it gave us something, some knack for solving the puzzles we manage to keep creating. Like that idea of home, Cahoone never shouts to be heard, so perhaps this will be yet another record that doesn't fall on enough ears, but make no mistake, those who don't hear this will be missing out.