St. Patrick’s day is a good day to listen to one of my absolute favorite albums, Carbon Leaf’s Echo Echo. Released in 2001, this was one of my early introductions to the band, alongside their first major record label album, Indian Summer (also quite good). Amazon.com had released the album as a free download while I was in college, and the album became a regular on my rotation of songs on my iPod and computer playlists. Interestingly, it’s remained there since, and one of the few albums that I return to again and again.
Echo Echo is a perfect balance between sound and lyrics. There’s a certain comfort that the band seems to have across the board here, listening to the album from start to finish. ‘The Boxer’ opens up with a quick start, with a rich blend of instrumentation and vocals from both Barry Privett and the rest of the background group. The rest of the album falls into place nicely after that, through to the end, with songs like ‘Wanderin’ Around’, ‘Shine’, ‘Mary Mac’ and ‘Desperation Song’ injecting energy to the thing, while ‘On Any Given Day’, ‘Torn To Tattered’, and ‘Toy Soldiers’ balance it out with something a little slower. The album ends up with ‘Maybe Today’ and a hidden track ‘My Dear’, to close out the album softly.
It’s difficult to explain some of the hows and whys of how the sound works for me. I don’t have a background in music, but I suspect that there’s something to do with the chords, but to my untrained ear, the album feels fresh, full of air and very spring like – it conjures up images of bombing along some of Vermont’s back state routes with the windows down, the music high up on the speakers. Particularly, ‘The Boxer’, ‘Toy Soldiers’, and ‘Lonesome Pine’ all help there, evenly spaced along the album.
Lyrically, the album holds up well though out, particularly ‘Toy Soldiers’, as I keep coming back to it year after year with reaffirmed meaning and understanding of the lyrics:
We find the people of our dreams
We find that they’re not what they seem
I’ve learned that people come and go
I’ve learned that families break and grow
Toy soldiers brave away those tears
Toy soldiers hope for better years
Today I strike out on my own
The dog is dead. We kids have grown.
Other songs hit me in much the same way, with the same weight. ‘Wandrin’ Away’ speaks to me as someone who’s travelled a bit, while ‘Torn To Tattered’ has comforted me when I’ve been down more than once. The lyrics are stories, complicated ones, and their meaning still comes out and speaks to me years on.
I seem to always find myself listening to this album around St. Patrick’s day. While the album doesn’t have any particular ‘Irish’ theme, there are subtle influences throughout, especially in ‘The Boxer’ and ‘Mary Mac’ (although Mary Mac is really a Scottish song). The band has been known to play covers of Irish songs at their concerts (including a recent one known as ‘Irish Song’), and amongst their instrumentation, their use of the Tin whistle also helps add in the flavor to a number of songs.
At the end of the day, Echo Echo just works. Balanced between an excellent sound and lyrics, Carbon Leaf’s never quite managed to top the album, for which I’m thankful. Their growing collection of songs is impressive, and they’ve put together some great albums, but none quite feel as consistent and click in quite the same way.