For those that would say you can never go home again, singer-songwriter Sera Cahoone begs to differ. Her new solo album From Where I Started is a deceptively uncluttered collection of classic country-inspired folk that manages to look both backwards and forwards, one foot firmly grounded in her previously-charted musical territories and the other headed mid-stride towards new sonic terrain. Although From Where I Started is the fourth entry in her solo catalog, it feels most like a spiritual successor to her self-titled debut. This is due in large part to both albums being written and initially recorded by Cahoone alone, singing and playing guitar and accompanying herself on a minimalist drum kit. The result is a new record that has the warmth, remembrance and intimacy of a photo album, one with which Cahoone charmingly invites you to get to know her a little better.
From Where I Started’s title is both revelatory and a bit on the nose. Cahoone’s musical career began behind a drum kit, playing in Colorado dive bars and honky tonks in her early teens and, after relocating to the Pacific Northwest when she turned 21, eventually joining famed indie-rock bands Carissa’s Wierd and Band of Horses. Upon picking up the guitar and moving to the front of the stage, Cahoone put out her first solo record in 2006 and then signed with Sub Pop to release 2008’s Only as the Day is Long and 2012’s Deer Creek Canyon.
All three of her previous releases are watermarked by her hushed, genteel vocal delivery and vintage country-folk songwriting. These characteristics not only carry over to From Where I Started, but the first lines of album-opening track “Always Turn Around” directly address Cahoone’s musical maturation as well: “First years I ever played my/my songs for anyone/my back was toward them and I sang down to the ground.” Quickly enough, Cahoone’s personal lyrics pull forward to where she’s at now: “Got so tired of being nervous that I finally turned around.”
While the songs on From Where I Started may have had their genesis (and firmly maintain their essence) in Cahoone’s singular creative world, recording them with producer John Morgan Askew (Neko Case, Laura Gibson) allowed her to pull a few extra chairs up to the table. Adding a Pacific Northwest roots-flavored Americana vibe to the album are Jason Kardong (Jay Farrar, Son Volt) on pedal steel, Jeff Fielder (Amy Ray, Mark Lanegan) on guitar, Annalisa Tornfelt (The Decemberists, Bearfoot) on fiddle, Dave Depper (Death Cab for Cutie) on bass and Rob Burger (Iron and Wine, Lucinda Williams) on piano, Wurlitzer, pump organ, Farfisa and mellotron.
Their combined musical heritage runs deep throughout the album, adding a hazy vibe that relaxes and soothes, even when Cahoone’s lyrical content deals with tougher subjects like the “out-of-your-hands” nature of romantic relationships (“Up To Me”), the inevitability and weight of loss (“Taken Its Toll”) and the real-life murder of her cousin by a domestic partner (“Ladybug”).
For the most part though, Cahoone’s new songs tackle the concept of “home” from a variety of angles. Songs like “Only One,” “Better Woman” and “House Our Own” find Cahoone reminding herself (and the listener) that home is simply where you decide to make it; meaning the process of “going home again” is not a matter of time travel to the past but a mere perspective shift within the present. If you decide to attempt the existential exercise yourself, Cahoone’s provided the perfect soundtrack.