Sera Cahoone’s brand of indie/country/low-fi music has a certain feel to it — it feels like being under a warm blanket almost. There’s a certain warmth that comes through her songs so that, no matter what the subject matter is, you’ll know everything is going to be alright. The singer/songwriter’s third full length album, Deer Creek Canyon, may very well be her best, and while she almost seamlessly transitions between moods and tones, there’s a security to her music that never diminishes. Deer Creek Canyon is a nice mix of songs, some upbeat kickers (“Nervous Wreck,” “Deer Creek Canyon”), some slow melancholy ballads (“And Still We Move,” “Worry All Your Life”), and some indie-centric, melody heavy songs (“Naked,” “Shakin’ Hands”). All of these sensibilities converge though in the middle of her album on “One to Blame.”
“One to Blame” is right square in the middle of the album: track #7. The song isn’t uptempo; it’s not a drag either; it’s somewhere right in the middle. This song, in both vocal and instrumentation, isn’t dripping with sadness, and it’s not wallowing in its own despair. Like many of the country artists that Cahoone finds inspiration from, there’s an emotional distance to “One to Blame.” Instead of Cahoone sounding like she is experiencing the song as it plays, it feels like she has written all of this down, driven to a bar, and sang it for the 100th time. This lack of immediacy isn’t a bad thing at all though: it works beautifully for the song. The fallen relationship that Cahoone sings about in “One to Blame” is completely over by the time the song makes its way to the listener in spite of its use of present tense. These lyrics feel like a well worn path that she has visited over and over again, reliving this memory, trying to understand what went wrong.
What’s most striking about “One to Blame” is Cahoone’s delivery. What made Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, et al., Bobby Womack et al. such wonderful vocalists wasn’t their willingness to jump into a verse, and it wasn’t their bombastic delivery — it was their lack thereof. These singers knew that the key wasn’t choosing what notes to wail on — it was choosing the notes to withhold and recede from. Sometimes, the absence of any kind of delivery can speak louder than any kind of scream, wail, or croon could. Cahoone finds this here and absolutely nails it. During the chorus, she sings two lines, and she doesn’t come in again for a few bars. Because choruses traditionally serve as the lynchpin of a song, vocalists will crowd it — Cahoone gives the chorus room to breathe, and after she sings “Finally found you on the street / I’ve been all over town,” listeners can’t wait for the next line. It feels like it should be right there following the her, but it isn’t.
Cahoone’s amazing vocal delivery on this song mirrors the mood and lyrics of the song as well. By the time (and it is late in the song when it happens) she sings “I need you with me / baby let’s just try,” she sounds defeated — she knows the answer here. The hesitation of her vocal delivery matches this perfectly, because she (or the narrator) knows what the response to the suggestion will be, there’s a brief pause before uttering it. There’s no mistake that this is the final phrase Cahoone sings of the song; “One to Blame” plays on a few more minutes before seemingly realizing that it’s over, just like the relationship chronicled within it.