May 22, 2018
Released On March 31, 2001
Released By Constant Ivy Records
Before I was even a fan of their music, I was always impressed by Carbon Leaf. The band and I both hail from Richmond, VA and I became aware of them around the time I really became aware of music. You know, that crucial time in any pre-streaming music fan’s life when you start listening to stuff beyond the radio. When Echo Echo, their fourth and breakout record, dropped in March of 2001, I was a freshmen in high school, but I didn’t start to hear about them until the beginning of my sophomore year that September. It seemed like every older kid I grabbed a ride from around that time had either the proper CD in their car, or a burnt CD-R adorned with fancy sharpie artwork that contained the majority of the album’s songs… and “Clint Eastwood” because every mix CD in 2001 had “Clint Eastwood” on it.
Even back then, fandom for Carbon Leaf ran high for those who knew them. People loading their CDs into car stereos spoke of them in a reserved tone normally used for future hall of famers. It was pretty striking to someone who knew nothing about them and it far exceeded hometown pride, something I would become well-versed in over a decade later while writing about the local scene. Each car ride, I would sit while being informed, educated almost, of some special quality housed in their music. The verbose and memorable lyrics, the prominent and skillful basslines, the multifaceted and rousing guitar work, the infectious and invigorating energy; everyone had their own specific aspect they latched onto within Carbon Leaf’s sound that elevated the music past special, landing somewhere between profound and essential.
Because of the constant exposure, specifically to the same three songs in every car ride (“The Boxer,” “Mary Mac,” and “Torn To Tattered“), I never had the drive to listen to them on my own. This went on for years, with my reluctance bordering on stubbornness. Still, I always found myself impressed with the band’s movements, whether it was playing & recording a benefit show for my high school in order to help the drama department (2002’s rare live CD From Godwin To Scotland) or releasing more albums that seemed to galvanize those around me just as much as Echo Echo, despite the clear shift in sound and approach.
Things changed a decade ago in 2008 though when I began a new, idyllic relationship with a woman I met through a chance encounter. By then, music had started to take over my life and as our relationship blossomed, I was eager to immerse her in the wonders of John Frusciante and other musicians I idolized. She had similar intentions too, offering up her own music that she wanted me to study, a list that began and ended with Carbon Leaf.
At this point in my life, I knew the game couples played at the start of relationships. Each person shows off their favorite movie or band while the other tries hard to hide their incessant eye-rolling, something I could barely do while watching films like The Invisible. (To be fair, that’s not as bad as my pushing Ring Of Honor on her.) But I was more than willing to give Carbon Leaf a proper try for the first time, especially since I still held them in high regard. The worst that could happen, I reasoned, was that I’d finally stop being the only person in the room of a party who doesn’t know the words when their music pops up in the shuffle.
So I started to comb through Carbon Leaf’s discography, which was six albums deep by this time and full to the brim with diverse offerings. With so many different styles and sounds, my casual respect quickly exploded into unbridled fandom. I devoured the affable yet earnest sound of 2004’s Indian Summer while finding plenty of unpolished gems in their 1995 debut record Meander, an alt-rock affair that remains the black sheep of their work. The flickers of brilliance found on 2006’s Love Loss Hope Repeat (whose lead single’s music video inexplicably features a then-unknown Katy Perry) and 1999’s Ether-Electrified Porch Music astounded me, while 1997’s Shadows In The Banquet Hall served as the perfect Rosetta Stone for Carbon Leaf’s boundless sound.
Folk, alternative, bluegrass, ragtime, and Irish music all graced my ears through a rock and roll filter, turning me into a fan that rivaled even my girlfriend, a fact that would become a huge bone of contention throughout our relationship. And it wasn’t just genres they had mastered — they were radio rock mavens (“Life Less Ordinary,” “What About Everything?“) and equally skilled in delivering songs with abstract thought (“Blue Ridge Laughing“), irregular structure (“Come Again?“), and even cheeky guidance (“Let Your Troubles Roll By“).
Above all their albums though, Echo Echo established itself as the stand-out in their discography, a record full of festive jaunts, gallant declarations, acroamatic meditations, and lavish talent. Lyrics pop out of the songs allowing opening lines like “Today I strike out on my own” (“Toy Soldiers“) and mid-song invocations of Charlie Brown (“Torn To Tattered”) to emphatically imprint themselves on your mind. The guitars carefully approach each song with expert finesse, equally comfortable in showing off (“Lonesome Pine“) as in settling down to support a rolling melody (“I Know The Reason“). The spotlight shines hard on the bass throughout the record, though the moments where the instrument slips into the background are the most charming, specifically as it plays around in the background and becomes less of a rhythm instrument and more of a backing vocal (“Follow The Lady“).
Also in the background lies a myriad of supporting instruments that give Echo Echo a folksy Pet Sounds vibe at times. Each different sound has its place, such as the surprising yet crucial whistle blow that gives some urgency to “Wandrin’ Around.” Speaking of Pet Sounds, the band mentions The Beach Boys later in the record and drops other references, musical and lyrical, throughout the record, including a nod to their own discography which serves as a nice little Easter egg. For the most part, their song structures are familiar for any music fan, but the band eagerly inserts different components here and there to refine these structures, such as the call and response of “Shine” that works on both an instrumental and vocal level as well as the flowing vocal melody that mimics the bubbling guitar line in “Mellow Tone.” Of course, a lot of the songs feel right at home on a St. Patrick’s day playlist, though several more could soundtrack a late August cook-out or even a December reflection and not feel out of place one bit.
“The Boxer,” a song that earned them a performance at 2002’s American Music Awards (I believe making them the first ever unsigned band to play live national television for a cool trivia fact), still remains a heavyweight in Carbon Leaf’s canon. Rightfully so too — it opens up their best record with a perfect mix of the band’s rock foundation and Celtic inclination (an inclination that also makes “Mary Mac” a heavyweight in their canon). But really, the album’s two highlights appear much later in the record, towards the end of a stacked back-half. “Desperation Song” comes first, offering up a mysterious melody that quickly turns into a conquering paean bordering on epiphany. The penny whistle, which pops up multiple times on the record, takes center stage here adding a layer of reverie in their music that makes for an aural will-o’-the-wisp, specifically in the lead-up to the finale.
In energy and gravity, “Desperation Song” is matched only by “Maybe Today,” a ten minute hypnagogic and esoteric tune that might just be the most profound statement Carbon Leaf has made in their 25 year tenure, both lyrically and musically. Carbon Leaf is no stranger to the slow-burn of a song (just listen to “November (makebelieve)“), but “Maybe Today” takes it a step farther with despair and hope interweaving until becoming cathartically released by the rambling yet coherent guitars. Both songs could make any album great, but luckily Echo Echo doesn’t rest on their laurels and sets its aim far past the lofty mark the two songs set.
Years had passed since my initial introduction to the band, and yet here I was, not only still impressed by Carbon Leaf, but also fascinated, bewildered, and hungry for more, something the band has been good on delivering in the decade that followed. Even today, I’m still impressed by the band, especially as I take their whole career into consideration. With humble beginnings as a college band, they worked hard at building their own sound with a sturdy foundation that could support all of the ambitious stylistic jumps they had in front of them. They were masters of their own fate too, publishing their own music and making a name for themselves with endless touring featuring outstanding performances.
While Echo Echo was their breakthrough, their first release on a label, Indian Summer, equally elevated them, specifically showcasing a different style that was just as endearing and enduring. Unfortunately, the label did little to elevate Carbon Leaf beyond this level, but the band persisted, and regained control over their music through creative fashions, such as re-recording and releasing all three records released through the label in order to take full advantage of the streaming music craze. That creativity didn’t stop there as it’s helped fuel the band’s DIY operation for well over two decades affording them the luxury of being a well sought out touring band with fervent followings well outside their home state.
By now, the band has released nine studio albums and a few EPs with another on the way this summer entitled Gathering, which seems to be a more roots-inspired offering. In the years since my fandom exploded, the band’s released plenty of great records, specifically the criminally overlooked Nothing Rhymes With Woman from 2009 and 2010’s Christmas Child which might be the best holiday release of the decade. Still, Echo Echo stands tall in their discography, a throng of influences and aspirations that is firmly tied together through robust spirit and irresistible charm, two things that define Carbon Leaf more than anything else.
Oh, I almost forgot. That girl who finally converted me into a fan? I married her of course, seven years ago on this date. I’m happy to say Carbon Leaf wasn’t the only thing she converted me on, but their music might be the most bountiful experience we’ve shared together as we’ve been by each other’s side for over two dozen Carbon Leaf concerts as well as countless weekend afternoons laying opposite each other on the couch while playing card games as their music fills the room around us. Seven years later, we’re exposing our baby daughter to their music, and as my wife pantomimes certain lyrics and musical moments to our eager girl, I’m reminded of her hand in my own fandom.
At our wedding seven years ago, each table was adorned with one of our favorite bands, with Carbon Leaf holding a prominent spot in the lay-out. By that point, I wasn’t so much impressed with Carbon Leaf themselves, but rather how much their music had become a part of my life, and now our lives.
Folk purveyors, rock artisans, & musical marvels.
Echo Echo came out around five months before I moved to Richmond to attend college. That may seem like perfect timing, but truth be told, I didn’t start to understand just how special this city was and is from a musical perspective until somewhere around 10 years after I got here. I was late to a party that was happening all around me — at venues that were within walking distance of where I was living, and on radio stations that were playing “The Boxer” and propelling Carbon Leaf to a notable level of success. I’ve tried to make up for that lost time by getting to know some of the people who have made Richmond’s music scene what it is, and as part of that effort, I interviewed Carbon Leaf singer Barry Privett for a magazine piece in 2016. We spoke at length about the group’s origins, and he mentioned that they faced a tough decision in the late 1990s: maintain the considerable momentum they’d built up as a cover band, or pivot toward playing original music at smaller venues to new audiences. They chose to start over, and knowing that the release of Echo Echo was just a few years removed from that decision turns the album into an inspiring artifact of self-determination. It also makes the variety you hear from song to song all the more impressive. From Irish-inspired folk to distortion-infused rock and every shade of the two in between — including lead guitar playing in “Toy Soldiers” that manages to voice the distinctiveness of both genres at once — Echo Echo exhibits levels of confidence and commitment that make the ambitious stylistic mix you hear hang together more tightly than it might have otherwise. And they’ve never stopped that process of reinvention. More than 20 years after getting started, the band is still in motion — touring, releasing music, and giving Richmond music fans (even ones who were late to the party) new reasons to be grateful for living here.
Imagine it’s the peak summer festival season. That means large fields, wide blankets, and lots of people shouting praises and slightly off-key verses in response to their favorite headlining bands. Now imagine taking the lighthearted acoustic instrumental aesthetic of Nickel Creek, combining it with Irish and Celtic touches of The Coors and The Pogues (hashtag: more penny whistle), and writing songs that can easily get stuck in your head and-or loop for almost-too-many minutes when performed live, not unlike like Dave Matthews Band or Blues Traveler. If you aren’t the biggest fan of bands who associate with the term “jam” in the style description box, fear not. While the music on Carbon Leaf’s 2001 album, Echo Echo, certainly has the potential to fall into repeats and solos of infinite length — partly due to the nature of its upbeat, jig-like motifs — there’s a component of compositional conventionality that keeps the music also fairly structured and melodically traceable; never quite getting too tone-warped or structurally loose to the point of leaving listeners wondering where the melody’s trajectory ran off to, the way some roots and jam band rock tends to let themselves go. One of the most interesting things of note that I took away from listening to Carbon Leaf almost seems too strange to mention but the quality wouldn’t go away. Remember the alternative rock band Eve 6, that had some of its most fruitful years between 1998 and 2003? Carbon Leaf have the same happy-go-lucky bounce and hummable instrumental hooks that fit with a folk festival vibe, but there are moments when Barry Privett’s vocal delivery — albeit tinged with an undeniable accent — seems like it could fit alongside Eve 6’s Max Collins and the somewhat signature style of the alternative rock band’s occasionally less melodic but memorable refrains. Privett sings with an easy to grasp melodic tone much of the time but there’s also an element of more rhythmically-driven delivery — like in the refrain of “On Any Given Day,” and verses of “Desperation Song.” Somehow, even though Privett sounds nothing like Max Collins, there’s an odd similarity with how Carbon Leaf’s songs unfold. Intermittent recurrence of group vocals harmonizing between intervals of thirds and fifths also sound reminiscent of lines on quite a few Eve 6 hits. (Think, “Inside Out,” “On The Roof Again,” and “Think Twice.”) It’s a bizarre quirk to be sure; things like melodically nebulous “Maybe Today” — complete with long sustained, distorted guitar and a run time of more than 10 minutes — definitely fall closer to Phish than the fast pace of alt. rock from the late ’90s and early 2000s. But for whatever reason, during those more easily wrangled (read: under six minutes) and singable tracks, like the uptempo, catchy, and cheerfully sung “Follow The Lady,” Carbon Leaf seems like a band that could be described as, “What Eve 6 would sound like if it incorporated folk instruments and played or sang more often in major keys.” That might sound weird as heck. However, it certainly makes Carbon Leaf easier to remember over just reciting bands Carbon Leaf could tour with or saying that the group is a “pseudo-jam band with Celtic attributes.” Those approaches would suffice, and do fit, but this is a far more unexpected way to grab people’s attention, don’t you think?
It’s really interesting for me to see Carbon Leaf come up on OYR. You see, I went to college with these guys. During my abortive two-year tenure at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA (about half an hour north of Richmond), I used to see them around campus, and caught a bunch of early sets at frat parties and the like. Mostly they were doing covers of bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam, but they’d throw an original in every now and then. I dug their sound, which at the time was sort of like the bands they covered, only with a slight tinge of country influence thrown in. But after they released their first album, Meander, which happened around the time I dropped out of college in 1995, I lost track of them — until nearly two decades later, when I was editing a local paper’s music section and realized they’d developed a strong and significant local following. 2001’s Echo Echo, which we’re considering here, was a key album in their rise. At the time it came out, it looked like Carbon Leaf were going to be the next big thing — or so I’ve learned in retrospect. I would have known at the time if they ever actually had been truly big, rather than merely hovering on the cusp for a few years and then settling into their current role as local perennials. I would also have heard Echo Echo before now, I imagine. But as it is, this is my first listen, and I can’t help but hear it through the ears of a casual fan who only knows their earliest material. By the time Echo Echo came out, original bassist Palmer Stearns had been replaced by Jordan Medas, whose nimble, melodic bass lines are standouts on tracks like “Torn To Tattered” and “Follow The Lady.” But the really noteworthy change here is the greatly increased dose of British Isles’ folk music injected into Carbon Leaf’s sound, an influence I never detected in their early material at all. The use of penny whistles and mandolins, as well as a significantly increased ratio of acoustic guitars to electric ones, definitely changes the album’s overall feel, as does the amusing inclusion of Scottish folk song “Mary Mac.” The old Carbon Leaf shows through at various moments, and I can definitely imagine “Shine” and “Toy Soldiers,” among others, fitting smoothly in with sets of Carbon Leaf’s earlier, more alt-rock material. But this is a significantly different band than the one I grew up with, and that’s not a bad thing. After all, a lot of bands went on to endlessly recapitulate the whole commercial-grunge sounds of Pearl Jam and their compatriots to disastrous results. Carbon Leaf took a path less traveled, and while it might have something to do with the fact that they’re not nearly as famous as Nickelback, it’s also a big part of why they’re a hell of a lot better.
Inevitably, the conversation turns to music. Sitting down to dinner with a couple of new friends in their home, moving past the initial “I lived here” or “I went to school there” threads, we turned to music. Those first casual mentions of bands everyone knows tested the water to feel out the overlap in the Venn diagram of what we all like. Quickly enough, though, we were one-upping one another to plumb the depths of that music knowledge, and Carbon Leaf halted the conversation as a band so eponymous of Richmond but one I haven’t listened to hardly at all. This week, we all laughed when this selection was on the table. Listening to them that night, hearing the freshness and bounciness of the sound, came back and infused my entire week. “The Boxer,” the most famous track of the album, is arguably my favorite because of the tone it sets for the whole album. That straightforward, happy sound, hearing the foundation of folk and Gaelic influence, never ceases throughout the album, no matter the lyrical content or pacing of the song. That they started out as a college cover band is absolutely endearing and no surprise as that youthful approach to their music shines on this album.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
Carbon Leaf’s live shows are defined by just as much experimentation and roaming as their recordings.
Ah, spring in Wisconsin. It’s that time of year when the weather in a given week can offer both 31 and snow and 71 and clear blue sky. It can feel like the weather here is screwing with you, but in a playful way. It’s the kind of trolling where your only reaction is, “Well, of course X and then Y happened”. You smile as you shake your head and sigh at the absurdity of it all. A Wisconsin spring offers the kind of weather patterns that make the term an oxymoron. (Lewis Black once joked on his first album — recorded in Madison (!) — that meteorologist means liar in English.) But it can be fun to guess the next day’s weather right alongside the experts. Hell, you could make a drinking game out of it. Wisconsinites can always use another justification for drinking to excess, after all. As I listened to Carbon Leaf this week, the weather was surprisingly pleasant and steady. It dipped into the 40s a few nights, sure, but it was also between 60 and 70 most days. Nothing extreme, and it’s more or less what May weather should be. As I said, playful. And so is Echo Echo. It’s about as summery an album as I’ve heard in a long time. It’s got catchy melodies (and some serious earworms), bright production, and sprightly musicianship all around — especially bassist Jordan Medas, who adds melody, plays the “proper” part of rhythm section, and even occasionally shows off. It’s the lyrical underbelly (“You walk the path like Charlie Brown / You’re full of hope but with your head down”) in certain places that would be, to extend the analogy, the 31 and snow of the record. Carbon Leaf sounds and feels like a jam band, in other words. That isn’t meant to be a slight against them. Jam bands get a lot of shit for, well, being jam bands. But the exploratory nature of them — a primary source of criticism — is also the point. Every night, they ask “What if?” and run with it. Yet the important difference between, say, Phish and Carbon Leaf is this: Phish is a band of musicians first and songwriters second, while Carbon Leaf is the opposite. Yes, there’s a looseness to CL’s music (like “Torn To Tattered” and “Maybe Today“), but it’s a measured looseness. It’s an extension of the song itself; playful, but with a purpose. It can be understood and appreciated, unlike Wisconsin weather.
I can imagine sitting on a hill somewhere, with a thermos of gin and tonics and a delicious picnic, while Carbon Leaf plays Echo Echo in its entirety. The company would be even better, maybe Doug Nunnally himself, and some of my other Off Your Radar colleagues. We don’t see each other often, so we’ll have a lot to talk about. We’re sitting far enough away so we’re not being rude by talking over the Irish-tinged Americana Carbon Leaf so expertly delivers. They sound similar to The Decemberists, and certainly deserve at least as much acclaim. But then, near the end of the concert, they start playing “Maybe Today” and we all shut up. Our drinks remain in our hands but we don’t bring them to our lips. The food grows colder as we sink into the music, which feels like a private performance. Even the audience fades away as the band folds into themselves, propelled by the interaction of the riffing, bouncing ass line and the active drumming. The guitars soar and we could almost be at an Allman Brothers concert. This is the sound of masters at work and if they don’t hit that high point consistently throughout the album, well, who really does?
Carbon Leaf’s Echo Echo feels like it walks further into uncharted stylistic territory than records by artists with similar aims dare. There’s a loose classification of Celtic rock bands ranging from The Mahones to The Pogues or even Dawes who want to modernize and reintroduce traditional music while endowing it with a youthful life force. In each of those cases, the bands tend to stick to a specific culture or tradition, however. Carbon Leaf showed no such restriction. The record turns out to be a mixed bag of everything the band seemed to appreciate from indie rock to dub and it’s difficult to classify except to say it’s certainly diverse. Even though Echo Echo sets off in a clear Celtic rock direction, full of penny whistles and mandolins, it abandons that early to present the listener with a different kind of traditional — that of indie college rock. It works because of the lackadaisical vocal style of Barry Privett which threads all the tracks together with a consistency regardless of their influential differences. The track “Mellow Tone” employs the use of a drum machine — pretty much the antithesis of traditional folk music — while Privett busts out a brief moment of faux Jamaican patois in the refrain to lend the track a sort of dub flavour. It’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t fly in these sensitive times, but one can imagine the early days of the band were probably playing traditional cover songs with a wide range of cultural appeal. Figuring out exactly what genre they are has become something of a band in-joke throughout the production of their catalog. This would explain the ability to shift unapologetically between unrelated styles. You have to give the band credit for finding a way to fit it all together in a successful way. It’s an elegantly constructed record more at home in easy listening than Celtic punk circles, but even 17 years ago, it boldly brought the listener a tightly produced experience in diversity and that’s something we could use a little bit more of today.
Growing up in Norfolk, I always heard about Carbon Leaf simply because they are from ninety miles north of my hometown. In the years following Echo Echo, they would frequently play music festivals in Norfolk, so I saw them play live many times. And to be honest, I took them for granted. But that’s how hometowns (and states) are — we wait for the national love to validate the local love, and that sucks. I’m glad we have Carbon Leaf this week on OYR because it gives me a chance to actually sit down with the music I was hearing all those years ago, and give it a fair shot. Right away I can see why so many people enjoyed this record: it just feels good. If a tune like “Wandrin’ Around” doesn’t immediately get your foot tapping, that’s a “you” problem. The exuberant vibes continue on “Mellow Tone,” which is one of those extra catchy hooks that you can’t help but sing along to, even if it conjures awful memories of Birkenstocks and patchouli. Hats off to the engineers on the album as well. The mix is pristine. Seemingly every instrument has its own little cubby hole carved out in the mix. On “Shine,” for example, the mandolin isn’t overpowered by the guitar, and the bass is nestled right up against the drums. The vocals are the cherry on top, especially the call-and-response backing vocals on the third verse. And you know what? Finally hearing this album in full makes me want to see the group live again. Look out Harborfest, here we come!
Multifarious in sound, yet familiar in execution remains the key to Carbon Leaf’s endless pull.
I started a new job this week. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m still working for the same company that I’ve been at for two years, but this past Wednesday I transferred to a brand new location that opened this weekend. Other than the fact that I have a slightly longer commute (one that no longer allows me to take the bus or easily ride a bike), the work I’m doing is pretty much the same. I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around it — that being in a different location somehow makes everything feel new even though I’m literally doing the same tasks once I’m there. Not that I’m complaining because I find it comforting, since this week’s album, Carbon Leaf’s Echo Echo, is the aural equivalent of what I’ve been experiencing at work. To clarify, I’d never heard of Carbon Leaf before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. However I have listened to plenty of Celtic-influenced bands (mostly Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, with a dash of The Pogues), indie acts (I often played bands like The Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes, and Monsters Of Folk on my college radio show, Folk ‘n’ Awesome), and artists that combine all of the above (Frank Turner springs to mind in particular). I’m not trying to say that Carbon Leaf sounds exactly like any of the artists I mentioned — except for perhaps Frank Turner, at least in my mind — but having a familiarity with the style of music made Echo Echo a very smooth listen. Rather than needing time for my brain and ears to adjust, “The Boxer” immediately had me hooked and, despite technically being brand new to me, it felt like an album I’d been listening to for years. “Wandrin’ Around” is a song that I want to listen to every time I walk around Central Park aimlessly, and I’m certain that “Maybe Today” will make several of my future “relaxing / sleep” playlists. Now that I’m aware of them, it’s odd that I never came across Carbon Leaf before, but it also kind of feels like I’ve been listening to them for ages. I don’t think discovering them could have synced up better with my “new” job any better if I had planned it.
After spending a week in sunny beautiful Mexico, it has definitely been hard to adjust back to normal, day to day life. I was kind of hoping this album would be full of maracas and beachy sounds, only because I miss it so much. The great thing about this album though was that while it didn’t transport me back to Mexico, it took me back to another place. Its Celtic influence is heavily evident and if I close my eyes, it’s like I am back in Ireland listening to the local folk bands play in pubs. And honestly that was a place I was okay going back to. I love music that I can connect to and find some personal meaning in so I loved that I could feel so connected to this music, even though I had never heard of this band and they aren’t even Irish. To me, that just proves their talent. One of my favourite songs is “Maybe Today” as it has such a beautiful melody and great lyrics. Most of all, I love how, even though it is a ten minute long song, it doesn’t seem to go on too long. If anything, I wanted it to go on longer. The song “Dear” is an amazing finish to the album as well. The intro is such a beautiful piece of music, and the relaxed sound throughout was just a great way to lead me in to a sunny Sunday evening along with the rest of this great record.
I want you to imagine the end of the perfect romantic comedy. One that is not too cheesy, not taking itself too seriously, and just about teetering on the edge of believability (maybe Grosse Point Blank). A desperate looking 30-something is rushing through a crowd of unpaid extras to reunite with the film’s leading lady as to end the movie on a high note… and what do you hear behind him? Don’t say “Eye Of The Tiger.” Whatever song it was, I’d argue that it would have been a significantly better film if they had chosen a track off of Echo Echo. That’s right, any track. Despite making a significant impact on the mainstream with the album’s opening track, “The Boxer,” Carbon Leaf did not sustain long-term mainstream growth. I suspect that this is not because the band lacked talent or drive in any facet, but rather that the mainstream was so far off Carbon Leaf’s radar that their short stay within it was highly unintentional. After listening to Echo Echo in full, I felt like I knew Carbon Leaf already and my follow-up google searches only confirmed this. Carbon Leaf delivers feel-good, Celtic folk inspired rock music that emits charm in spades. Their songs are collectively endearing, pragmatic, and certainly not devoid of humor. You may not have been able to fully appreciate this album way back in 2001, but now is your second chance. Anthemic, humorful, and uplifting, Echo Echo is the perfect album to start your summer with.
Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making
I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to put my finger on what listening to this album all the way through for the first time in more than 12 years (that’s as far back as my Last.Fm account goes) is making me feel. It’s something like nostalgia, but more than that. I remember getting dressed up for a Carbon Leaf show in my sophomore year of college. A quick search on Setlist.Fm (all these .FM sites are really coming in handy!) plus a confirmation in a journal from the time puts the show at September 4, 2002. I was under the impression that Carbon Leaf was a lot closer to Dropkick Murphys or Flogging Molly than they are, so I was dressed the way I dressed for punk shows at the time. My friend Riley was wearing a Bad Religion T-shirt and at one point in the show, one of the band members asked him what his favorite Bad Religion album was. He responded immediately while I stood next to him petrified they were going to ask me what my favorite Bad Religion album was. Not that I didn’t have a favorite Bad Religion album. Just that at the moment, I couldn’t think of any albums by anyone. The not entirely appropriate attire and the blanking on any relevant music knowledge feel like appropriate memories for the way that listening to Echo Echo makes me feel. Specifically, awestruck, thrown (in a good way), and amateurish in my knowledge. Upon relistening, I found that every song on the album had a memory or an association or a “oh, I love this part!” attached to it, specifically the bass on “Torn To Tattered” and the verses of “On Any Given Day” which still seem the definition of cool to me. The music is effortless, overflowing with confidence that shies away swagger, and I can’t think of a band I listen to now that has those same qualities. It’s like finding out your friend’s cool older brother has a band and they’re very good, but also so chill that it’s intimidating. I think, in the end, what I’m feeling is a memory of one of the first times I listened to a band that wasn’t all over the radio (though I’d certainly heard “The Boxer” on DC101 at least once which is what inspired my impression that they were like Dropkick Murphys — boxers and all that), but rather playing down at the local venue of my college town. The follow-up to this album, Indian Summer, will always be my go-to Carbon Leaf album, but I was delighted to find this album patiently waiting for me to return to it. I don’t think I’ll wait another 12+ years before listening to it again. In fact, I think I’ll go put it on right now.
Tiptoe Past The Dragon by Marlin Greene
Chosen By Jeremy Shatan