by Lee DeVito
Sometimes, it's nice when things just are what they are. These days, it seems as if it's impossible to do straight-up anything and garner any sort of critical attention without some kind of gimmick. This is especially true in modern country, where pop country has long masqueraded as pop music or managed to gain rock cred by tacking on the "alternative" tag. Even the homegrown darlings of Blanche owe much of their following to their knack for appearing as characters and amplifying country music's darker features, in addition, of course, to the strength of the actual songs.
The members of Scarlet Oaks don't care about any of that stuff; their second release (and also their second EP) Canadian Dew continues in the band's past vein of rootsy, unabashed Americana. Instead of gimmicks or disguising pop as "country," Scarlet Oaks' songs center around the haunting atmosphere created from the complementary aspects of singer-guitarist Steve McCauley's gravelly voice and drummer Noelle Christine's delicate backing vocals. Particular geographic references help root the album in the Great Lakes State and give the barefaced delivery an even more earnest feel, so you know all along that the Oaks are never trying to be a Nashville band.
The two eponymous tracks — "Scarlet Oaks" and "Canadian Dew" — are the standouts here, the latter augmented by lonely harmonica and autoharp. There might not be enough here to capture and hold the attention of the casual listener, but fans of local music, and especially country music, should find enough in these six songs to enjoy. It will be interesting to see what these guys can do if and when they get to spread out for an entire LP.
Scarlet Oaks' next local show is Friday, Dec. 11, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7665.
Lee DeVito reviews music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.