It’s taken local Americana folk outfit Canary in the Coalmine more than five years to release their debut album. This wouldn’t seem like a big deal, except the sextet fronted by songwriters Jessica Pounds and Sandy Wicker has been garnering quite a lot of attention throughout Northeast Florida within that time.
“It encompasses our brand of Americana folk, but more eclectic,” Pounds explains of Who Fears the Devil? which dropped in mid-March. “There are tunes on there that are a little bit more traditional with a bluegrass feel and then there are some that are — we always use the term ‘eerily hopeful,’ in that it’s conveyed lyrically as well as musically.”
Who Fears the Devil? features 10 original songs written by Pounds and Wicker. It was produced by Matt Grondin through Parlor Studios in New Orleans and includes performances by band members Philip Pan, of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, and longtime area music veteran Arvid Smith.
There are also appearances from percussionist Nate Werth of Grammy Award-winning band Snarky Puppy, drummer Mark Raudabaugh of Donna the Buffalo and Tania Elizabeth, currently serving as five-string fiddle player/violinist for The Avett Brothers.
“We started work on the album about three years ago,” says Pounds. “We took two trips to New Orleans over the course of six months and then went through the mixing and mastering process. We weren’t in a rush. We also had to decide if we were going to go on a label or release it independently; we decided that an independent release was the best option for us.”
Pounds, age 30, and Wicker, 23, lyricists and vocalists, met in July 2009 busking on Asheville, North Carolina, streets. “It was love at first sound,” as the band’s website explains. Within months, they settled in Jacksonville and formed Canary in the Coalmine.
The band name is derived from a small songbird miners kept with them to detect dangerous gases like methane or carbon monoxide. If a gas was present, it would kill the canary before the miners, giving them a head start. If the canary stopped singing, it was time to get the hell out of Dodge.
Pounds and Wicker transformed their duo into a full-on band, featuring some of Jacksonville’s musical heavyweights including Smith, Pan, bassist/pianist Peter Mosely and drummer Eric Bailey.
“It makes it incredibly difficult, but it’s also one of those things that you just have to deal with if you want the best of the best,” Wicker says of scheduling practice sessions and gigs. “Everybody’s got their own thing going on, but we’ve kind of got it down now.”
Influenced by everything from Southern gospel music and Skeeter Davis to Nina Simone and Nancy Sinatra, Canary in the Coalmine is looking forward to a busy year with their debut album release and a Southeast spring tour that takes them from Savannah to Knoxville.
“We’ve never really toured before, so this will be the first time for us as a band to go out,” Wicker says. “We’ve gotten some pretty great shows where venues have offered to put us up in hotels, or whoever’s promoting the show has offered to let us stay with them.”
Canary in the Coalmine is also returning to the One Spark crowdfunding festival on April 8 for a performance at the After Dark series at the JAX Chamber lot on Bay Street in Downtown Jacksonville.
“It was awesome to be a part of it even though it was in a smaller capacity than some of the other people who got out there,” Pounds says of playing at One Spark 2014. “You can feel the energy. Downtown was buzzing. It was awesome to see the creativity and we’re glad to be a part of it again this year.”
With band members ranging in age from 23 to 64, and in occupations from antiques dealer to symphonic violinist, finding time to tour or even put out an album has been difficult.
“Although we have different experiences and this huge age range, at the end of the day, when you put us on stage, we share this very common vision and this common experience,” Pounds says. “We came together as organically as we could have and, to me, that’s one of the best things about this experience.”