Appalachian Gothic – Erik Vincent Huey

'Appalachian Gothic' is an album that stands alongside the best of those documenting the fates of those caught up in the social and economic fallout of post-industrial America.

Appalachian Gothic

Erik Vincent Huey

  • Americana
  • Cow Punk

  1. The Appalachian Blues
  2. Winona
  3. You Can't Drink All Day
  4. Dear Dad
  5. That's What Jukeboxes Are For
  6. The Devil's Here in These Hills
  7. The Bride of Appalachia
  8. A Heart Disease Called Love
  9. Death County
  10. Lucy
  11. The Battle of Uniontown
  12. Yours in the Struggle
  13. A Coal Miner's Son

The frontman with Cowpunk Americana outfit The Surreal McCoys,  Erik Vincent Huey  makes his solo debut with an album that draws on his raising in Appalachia, the nostalgia counterpointed with  today’s  hard realities.

Featuring guitarist Eric Ambel, Kenny Soule on drums and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Seeger Sessions’ bassist as the core band, it opens with  echoey strum and steady drum beat of ‘The Appalachian Blues’, a lament for the  loss of the once thriving coal mining industry:

Now they’re closing down the mines And those jobs are gone forever They said nothin’ ‘til we/Saw it on the news­

and the consequent economic :

There’s nothin’ left downtown/but churches, bars, and pawn shops

and psychological:

The tavern’s full most every afternoon We’re all looking for deliverance In the bottom of a bottle

impact  on those left high and dry, with the toll taken by addiction to numb the emptiness:

A Creeker kid O.D.’d That’s the third one since last summer “One more victim” says the preacher “Of the Appalachian Blues”

The pace picks up on the twang some ‘Winona’, an old co-write with former bandmate Tony Fuentes, a swaggering rocker  about how love and the bottle don’t sit well together:

I gave up the brown liquor For your brown eyes It’s either love or the bottle In a minin’ town Your voice still echoes Through the hollers at night I remember the heat Of your touch And that night you told me That I loved the bottle Too much To ever love you enough

Booze – and its ruinous effect on relationships – continues to flow through the honky tonk ‘You Can’t Drink All Day (If You Don’t Drink in the Morning)’  featuring Neil Thomas on piano and Cody Nilsen’s steel guitar

Now I’m no stranger to A little shot of whiskey And it’s rare that I turn Down a glass of wine But before you left I never hit the bottle before noon Now I start early And don’t stop ‘til closin’ time

With the conclusion that:

To drink all day takes dedication Cuz if you’re not wasted Then the day most surely is

It’s back to guitar slinger swagger for the autobiographical Steve Earle-like ‘Dear Dad’, though you’d not describe it as a love letter:

When my dad walked out I couldn’t wait To never see him again He taught me all about What not to do When I became a man He beat me like a drum And treated my mom Just like a slave Only gift he ever gave me Was a lifetime full of rage As  he sketches a portrait of a bitter man: Even sober he was Meaner than a snake…Swore the world Was stacked against him So he could Never get ahead So he spent Every wakin’ hour Draggin’ us down With him instead

There a second visit to the honky tonk as he duets with Laura Cantrell on ‘That’s What Jukeboxes Are For’ with Rob Arthur’s  barroom piano that musically and lyrically channels  the classic days of George and Tammy:

As I sit here by the jukebox There’s an angel spinning songs That rain teardrops from her eyes In a run-down honkey tonk Playing singles, drinking doubles One sad song at a time I tell her that’s a lot of heartaches For a dime

And she said:

“It was perfect til it wasn’t It was right til it went wrong I’s been said a thousand ways Across a hundred thousand songs “When someone’s never comin’ back And it makes you want ’em more Oh baby That’s what jukeboxes are for”

It even ends with a mention of ‘Stand By Your Man’.

Ambel on dulcitar and both 6 and 12-string guitars and titled after the book by historian James Greene about the WV Coal Mine Wars, things  return to a darker hue and the coal mining theme for ‘The Devil Is Here In These Hills’ that again draws on family history:

My great granddaddy Came from County Cork Into these hills For an honest day’s work Sent down in the mines With a pick and an axe He went in pure And he came out black Worked six days a week Only paid him four So he went and burned down Their company store When he went on strike They sent mine guards in Killed my great granddaddy And eight of his friends

Again it expands into the legacy of the mine closures:

Now I’m loading crates At the Wal-Mart store Guess the world don’t want Our coal no more Can’t take no pride In the wage they pay Take ten Percocet Just to get through the day We fought the mine owner Who we gonna fight now? In the new world order We’re the new ghost town

As it hits the midway mark, that socioeconomic collapse and the effect on people’s lives also underscores ‘The Bride of Appalachia’, a  spoken number backdropped  by  cajon, dulcitar and harmonium that plays out like a short story populated by such characters as the titular woman at the end of the bar:

Face rugged and steep like the Walls of the holler Dreams ground down or sheared off Like mountain tops … The local boys joke More tattoos than teeth But they don’t know the half of it. and some Carnie Built like chain-smoker Taunting the crowd Between Billy Squire songs Here, among all the forgotten people and burned out towns that are just data points on a politician’s map: Opioids and corn squeezins They’re the only bridge Outta here on most days

As it gathers to its nihilistic close:

The inner city gets all the headlines But they’ve got nothing on us When it comes to desolation The lost and the lonesome And the lovelorn Gathering by the jukebox The only future in here Is the past Everyone around here has a date The date they coulda gotten out of here But didn’t

Another punchy rocker, A Heart Disease Called Love is actually a cover of 70s punk poet John Cooper Clarke by way of a version by Miracle Legion and a vision of Springsteen doing the Ramones with a sax break courtesy of  Steve Berlin. Then, on a bluesier  note, ‘Death County’ draws on the legend of Robert Johnson, reset the tale in “Bloody Mingo” County West Virginia and reimagines it through a William Faulkner lens, with Johnson as a spurned outsider who commits mass murder ballad to the strains of reverb Morricone guitar and three-part harmonies:

People down in Bluefield Won’t be judging me no more Since I took this tin of kerosene From behind the hardware store As they gather for the service And the evening turns to night I calmly bolt the doors And cast this town into the light

Fire burns too on ‘Lucy’, a riff-driven punky swagger that he describes as being inspired by Nick Cave but sounds more like what ‘All Along The Watchtower’ era Dylan might have produced had he set  to write a number about a vampire mountain brothel where:

Blood drips out on the pure white sheets Like a vicious work of art

And offers up the sage advice:

Don’t make a promise standing up That you can’t keep when you lie down

The opening line of the drawled bluesy slow march ‘The Battle Of Uniontown’ has him declare:

I was born in Uniontown

which indeed he was, the city just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the song drawing on how the “triple witching” of opioids, poverty and the pandemic has devastated the place, where:

The downtown streets are whispers


we’re droppin’ dead, two, three a week And we’re fightin’ for our lives


Jobs have come and gone so fast From fracking back to coal They chewed us up and spit us out Left nothing but a hole Banks and politicians Ravaged all that they could see The Monongahela River could never Wash their vile souls clean


What used to be the Promised Land Is now a dead-end road

Even so, while the narrator may have nowhere to go, this is a song of defiance not defeat, because while

Winds lash the Alleghenies But not the winds of change So the Battle for Uniontown Still rages to this day

And it’s the power of the union that is the backbone of the penultimate  ‘Yours In The Struggle’, a  Texicali-flavoured number that takes its title from Jim Greene’s attorney Ike Williams, also an author, who uses the line to sign off his letters and was inspired by  the work of Mother Jones and fellow labour activists and unionisers Frank Keeney  and Dan “Few Clothes” Chain during  the West Virginia Mine Wars (as documented in John Sayles’ film ‘Matewan’), an anthem of Guthrie-esque proportions:

From Calument to Ludlow We battled for our lives We got battered, bruised and bloodied But we got organized Toiling underground Most days we never saw the sun When freedom can’t be won with words You gotta win it with a gun From Paint Creek to Blair Mountain We took an oath and took a stand A red scarf around each neck And a gun in every hand Now some say The Struggle’s over The banners have come down But I still see injustice As I roam from town to town And so the fight continues Raise your fist and stand up strong Until the world is level The Struggle will live on

It ends with the quietly sung brief autobiographical harmonica hymnal coda ‘A Coal Miner’s Son’ that speaks to the cost of progress in passage of time and the deep seated nature of his roots:

This was the engine room Of the Industrial Age But the years passed us by Progress ain’t always kind And the march to the future Left this place behind Spent my life tunnelin’ out But no matter how far I roam These rugged brown hills Keep calling me home.

A hugely personal album that stands alongside the best of those documenting the fates of those caught up in the social and economic fallout of post-industrial America but still holding on to a sense of pride and determination to not let the steel of their resolve turn to rust.