On his debut solo album, Surreal McCoys’s frontman and co-founder Erik V. Huey explores the ragged physical and emotional landscape of the West Virginia coal mining country where he grew up. With Appalachian Gothic, Huey delivers a finely tuned suite of songs that careen from haunting folk ballads to rollicking punk rockers.
The album opens with the haunting minor-chord blues stomp, “Appalachian Blues.” Its insistent drum score and hypnotic rhythm evokes the claustrophobic darkness of the mines and their ghostly presence in the consciousness of the miners’ families. (“The ghosts they haunt these hills/You can hear ‘em in the twilight/Howlin’ when the workin’ day is through.”)
The upbeat rocker “Winona”—with echoes of Elvis Costello or Jason & the Scorchers—joyously celebrates the way a woman named Winona was a momentary glimpse of light in the darkness before she left the singer because of his drinking. Still, her memory shines through the alcohol haze and the long nights in the mine.
“You Can’t Drink All Day (If You Don’t Drink in the Morning)” is dance-across-the-floor country shuffle, with musical echoes of Pure Prairie League’s “I’ll Fix Your Flat Tire, Merle.”
A propulsive punk-rocker, the title track lists all the ways that the devil lurks in the hills of Appalachia—in the mines, in the addictive drugs that kill the pain of injury and unemployment, the deadening work (and the more deadening feeling of being out of work), and the devastation of black lung disease.
The straight-ahead, gritty Southern rocker “Lucy” conveys lust’s vise grip on soul and body “Yours in the Struggle” serves a musical and lyrical riposte to John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads.” Huey’s song weaves in musical lines from Denver’s—telling the stark truths of West Virginia, not Denver’s touristy version.
Huey’s canny lyrical ingenuity and his ability to spin an entrancing story create a powerful, entertaining narrative about a region which, in the words of “The Bride of Appalachia” is filled with “desolation,” “the lost,” “the lonesome,” and “the lovelorn.”
Appalachian Gothic poignantly recreates the sense of place that still has a hold on Huey and which he can never forget, though he left long ago. The disc was produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel—who also plays guitar and co-wrote five of album’s 13 songs. It does what the best folk albums do: capture the jaggedness of a time and place, convey the deep-seated emotional and political struggles that will haunt those spaces forever.
Appalachian Gothic is available HERE.