Top Ten Album of 2009 - Wayne Bledsoe, Knoxville News Sentinel
Top Ten Local Release of 2009 - Steve Wildsmith, Maryville Daily Times
"It’s disarming, beguiling, sometimes hypnotic…."
-Jack Neely, Metropulse
"I have no idea what to call the Lonetones. They're acoustic musicians who don't always play acoustic. They're folk musicians with a love of modern psychedelia. Whatever they are, they're great. "Canaries," the group's third album, stretches the Lonetones' borders a little more. Married couple Steph Gunnoe and Sean McCullough anchor the group with their consistently fine songs and vocals. Stand-out numbers include Gunnoe's beautiful and delicate "Gone Again" and McCullough's "Blue Vinyl" - a song that is so lyrically minimalist that it has no right to be so lovable. Bassist Maria Williams, drummer Steve Corrigan and accordionist/pianist Lissa McLeod help flesh good songs out into something purely beautiful."
-Wayne Bledsoe, Knoxville News Sentinel
"'I think there's something really pleasing about dissonance,' Gunnoe told The Daily Times this week. 'I think we're really melodically driven musicians, but it's so pleasing to somehow wed something really melodic with a more complex dissonance or background….' That dissonance may seem out-of-place on an initial listen to "Canaries," but repeated plays find McCollough and Gunnoe at a creative peak. The sound effects are understated -- sly and soft, contributing to a song's mood or melody in almost indefinable ways. The layers are arranged in gorgeous stacks, like the shimmering icing of a wedding cake -- intricate, detailed and personable. Gunnoe's girlish voice is another instrument in the mix, and as it swirls and bobs on a sea of lush instrumentation, there's a dreamlike quality to 'Canaries' that's fascinating and endearing."
-Steve Wildsmith, Maryville Daily Times
"'Sean and I are always taking issue with people putting Appalachian music in a box. We want it to be something that's living and breathing,' said Gunnoe"
-from “New Appalachia: The Lonetones - Band looks to bring mountain music into the modern day,” Wayne Bledsoe, Knoxville News Sentinel
I’ve starred in a million dreams
Oscar winning only made me mean
How it hurts to be eclipsed
We’re all stars in our apocalypse.
(from “Trickle Down”)
To some, the Lonetones new album, Canaries, has the feel of a soundtrack. Perhaps it’s the lush musical production with layers of contrasting colors. Or maybe it’s the lyrical themes – songs for a “new Appalachia.” It’s not a soundtrack (at least not yet), but if it were, perhaps it would be best described as a soundtrack for life in modern Appalachia – an ode to a post-Oh-Brother-Where-Art-Thou era. The album, and the band’s music in general, speaks to the conflicted nature of a region steeped in tradition while blighted by Walmarts and stripmines. It speaks to generational conflicts and the inner struggles of those whose hearts and souls are tied to the mountains but also want to be set free.
But the album is not simply a lament. Rather, it is a hope that the old and the new can work together as symbiotic partners. In the song “West Virginia Soundtrack” Gunnoe offers her assistance in this task: “I’ll be your midwife dark and alone, I’ll help you bear what’s never been born.” And in “Here In The South,” she promises to this end that “here in the south, ain’t gonna shut my mouth.”
The production of the album also reflects the conflicted nature of modern Appalachia (and contemporary “Appalachian” music). The band still has the partial look of an old-time string band with acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin and upright bass. But even these instruments aren’t always played in a traditional manner and the addition of drums, accordion, keys and vibes takes the music in new directions.
In a recent Knoxville News Sentinel interview, Gunnoe stated that "people expect you to be an old-time band when you have these instruments. Sean and I are always taking issue with people putting Appalachian music in a box. We want it to be something that's living and breathing." To this end, on Canaries, they also mix together electronic and found sounds (dissonance at times) with acoustic instruments.
Steve Wildsmith of the Maryville Daily Times describes it this way: “That dissonance may seem out-of-place on an initial listen to 'Canaries,' but repeated plays find McCollough and Gunnoe at a creative peak. The sound effects are understated -- sly and soft, contributing to a song's mood or melody in almost indefinable ways. The layers are arranged in gorgeous stacks, like the shimmering icing of a wedding cake -- intricate, detailed and personable. “
But amidst all of that, Gunnoe’s voice remains at the center of the band’s sound – of the mountains, but not satisfied to be just that. Jack Neely of Metro Pulse says of her voice that “its overt innocence sometimes seems to conceal some deeper melancholy beneath the surface, a singing through trauma.”
Gunnoe and McCollough still work closely together with the band to create the unique arrangements that they have become known for, searching for just the right instruments to compliment each song. Maria Williams still provides a strong backbone with her upright bass and harmony singing. And Steve Corrigan on drums and Lissa McLeod on accordion and keys provide fresh voices to round out the lush sound of band.