The Fabled Canelands is the debut album from Warren Byrom and The Fabled Canelands, and it is a spectacular debut at that. The album is like a journey that begins moving West up over those Appalachian Mountains into the new frontier and ends where all water travels west of the mountains down the Mississippi River and into New Orleans. While rooted in the circumstances and perhaps myths of the past, this album is very much situated in the now. It expresses longing, and heartache, hope, despair, and wonder. However, perhaps most importantly, it leaves its listener with the sense that she or he is somehow better for having listened and taken in the lessons of those fabled canelands.
Warren Byrom has a fantastically expressive voice that radiates with a deep sense of hope and to some extent even a sense of innocence. Not the kind of hope and innocence that boarders on ignorance, but the kind that comes from having what one might call an “open soul.” You can’t help but connect with Warren and what he’s singing about. The other musicians on this album are excellent. They help stitch together a patchwork quilt into this blanket that covers everything in its warm goodness. The overall musicianship is great. It’s raw, but in all the right ways. It feels comfy. The album is country and folk of course, but what I think sets it apart is its artful use of the distilled elements of Dixie blues and jazz so effortlessly and creatively. The kind of jazz played here that seems to be lost on so many alt-country roots artists these days is the same kind that formed in the musical jambalaya of the Southern frontier before there were differentiations between jazz and blues and folk and country and string band music. However, here, Warren and band don’t fall into the other pitfall that often plagues some roots artists recently in that they never sound like a lost-in-the-past copy cat revival show. The music is influenced by the past while still remaining firmly in the now.
The album opens with “That First Kite,” which is an original arrangement that utilizes a James Baker Hall poem as its lyrics. Warren and band masterfully arrange this hauntingly beautiful song, which sets the mood for the rest of the album quite nicely.
The song “The Fabled Canelands” shows off the band’s more folk rock and alt-country sensibilities, but the increased pace and instrumentation doesn’t cause any loss in lyrical poignancy with lines like, “I feel like a bat, my signal ain’t coming back, it just disappears into the night.” There are a few other rockers on this album like “Heavy Dragoons” that sounds like it could have come off of any of Bob Dylan’s recent albums since Love & Theft or “Song for Jayce” that could easily feel at home on a Wilco record. You should listen to these with the stereo loud. Is it time for a road trip?
There are some other real gems on this album as well. “Home” is a beautifully sweet song about a broken relationship and longing to “put us back together.” It has a gorgeous and sublimely subtle organ part and to go with heartbreaking lines like, “The bird that marries the fish, where they supposed to be living?” Or there’s the folky jazz walkabout called “Sidewalk Kings of New Orleans” delivered with a drawl like a slightly inebriated Hayes Carll busking down on Bourbon Street. There’s the lyrically irreverent and classic country sounding song “Nickel and Dime” equipped with pedal steel guitar. As well as the weary cosmic folk dream called “Sleep.”
Overall, The Fabled Canelands is just a great record. I highly recommend it and consider it essential listening to roots music fans. I expect big things for Warren and band in the future. Check and see if they’re coming to a town near you and see them live.
–Written by Dee Thomas