REVIEW: Adam Remnant at The Front Room

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Every time I see him, Adam Remnant seems to more and more fully become Bob Dylan.

His voice, a plain-sung rasp, now nearly resembles Woody Guthrie's. His spare chord style puts emphasis on the intensely personal stories contained therein. Throw in a harmonica and a Blonde on Blonde haircut and the whole package is there.

Such was my impression upon seeing him Thursday evening, playing to a small, yet appreciative, crowd in the Front Room Coffeehouse, located in Ohio University's Baker Center.

Southeast Engine's singer-songwriter has never shied away from solo performances, holding his own in both round-robin and solitary sessions.

And in the coziest school-sanctioned spot on campus, Remnant flexed both his songwriting and musicianship muscles for a typically memorable performance.

Southeast Engine have always had their heart in the hills, and Remnant, as their prophet, reflected this mindset. Dressed in a light-blue button-up shirt and black pants, stomping his foot to the beat, he personified the early 20th century Appalachian tales put forth in his songs.

"Let's see what we've got here," Remnant mused, flipping through an extensive lyric binder. It's clear that he's no stranger to songwriting, but such an encyclopedia must have taken him years to compile.

He picked up his guitar, mentioning that he came up with the next song while walking down Court Street, and that he thought it sounded like Beck.

Beck, huh? Interesting influence for a guy who goes on stage armed with just a guitar and banjo in tow.

Singing in his childlike, endearing voice, Remnant evoked Southeast Engine and his own musical heritage in his originals and covers. He mostly played in a calm, laconic style, letting each chord have its space.

He sang about old oak trees, going to California (not the Led Zeppelin song) and not wanting to go to work. From the Southeast Engine catalog, he picked a song he seems to play often in his performances, "Adeline of the Appalachian Mountains," (shown in the video above) and "Canaanville," the title track from the band's recent EP.

Not all the selections were sleepy, though. When he brought out his banjo, he impressed the audience with his intense picking chops. He emphasized both the bass and melody in a bouncy, bluegrass-kind of way, with a ferocity that reminded me of his integral presence in one of Athens' best rock bands.

Particularly transcendent was his cover of George Harrison's "Run of the Mill," which always begged for the stripped-down treatment that Remnant gave it. Not that the Phil Spector-produced version on All Things Must Pass was bad by any means, but its gorgeous chord sequence seemed to hit harder when performed by one man and his guitar rather than being obscured behind a thick wall of sound.

The song was just a highlight of a set that was already sincere to the extreme. Being a sucker for sincerity in music, it was hands-down the best show I've ever had the pleasure of watching at the Front Room. Here's to Adam Remnant, and to seeing how he'll amplify all that feeling with the power of a band behind him this Thursday at Casa Cantina.

Video produced by Elliot Nicolson