Album Review – Cody Christian’s “Canary in a Coal Mine”
Like a motherlode vein of number 9 coal running deep beneath the mountain and seeming to never give out, the amount of musical talent emanating from coal country and gracing modern ears with authentic sentiments to feed the soul seems bountiful and endless these days, so much so that the sheer volume of voices makes it a challenge to keep up with them all, even when their efforts beg for attention.
It is in the pursuit of searching deep for the unheralded, but deserving songwriters of the region that one will stumble upon Virginia’s Cody Christian. Originally from the tiny town of Powhatan, you don’t need a biography of Cody Christian’s life story to get clued into what he’s all about. It’s all spelled right out in stark relief in the songs of his debut album Canary in a Coal Mine.
The opening title track explains how in Appalachia, you can spend your life going down in the mines until the ailments of the occupation overtake you, or perhaps you never come back up. Or you can take those hard-worn stories with you to Nashville where if you sign the wrong deal, it can result in a similar form of indentured servitude that can be just as detrimental to your health.
So Cody Christian split the difference and decided to head to the Virginia coast to become a shipbuilder in the Hampton Roads area. Slaving away each day making warships—and perfecting his musical chops on nights and weekends including in a band called Every King and Commoner—Cody did the best he could making it in the real world until his desire to make music full time won out.
Christian made local headlines in December of 2021 when he put in his two-weeks notice at Newport News Shipbuilding by sending an email to the some 20,000 total employees stating, “After eight years of employment, I have concluded that I deserve to work in an environment where my beard is valued. I have accepted a position as a Honky-Tonk man and I can’t seem to stop.”
Cody was hoping that his colorful exit may earn him a few fans, but it also made for a good song called “Two Week Notice.” There is little to no fiction in Cody Christian’s music. His struggles with wanting to be a responsible adult, while also pursuing a musical career is what makes up the lion’s share of this album’s material.
“Wife & Kids” and “Someday I Am” are specifically about the push and pull of wanting to pursue his musical dreams before it’s too late, but also not wanting to drag some poor woman along with him on what might be a fantasy, while also understanding how the responsibility of fatherhood can impinge on this pursuit as well.
Cody also makes it clear that the last thing he wants to do is sell his soul to Music Row, despite the carrots they may dangle in front of him, including at one point reportedly being tendered a deal to make a big production record in Nashville, but one that he would be on the $80,000 bill for if things didn’t go right.
So instead he’s doing what he can to get his name out there while remaining independent, taking both sonic inspirations and the same approach to the business as Tyler Childers did. Canary in a Coal Mine is a strong musical effort, if a little unrefined and wobbly at the beginning. And though the songs are more personal at the start and his unique cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” is pretty seductive, it’s the back half of the record where a greater depth of composition is found, and the instrumentation tightens up.
With so many choices these days in the “Appalachian authenticity” genre, it may be difficult for Cody Christian to find the attention he needs to be able to care for the wife and kids solely off his music. But with Canary in a Coal Mine, Cody definitely proves he deserves to.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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January 3, 2023 @ 10:24 am
Really appreciate learning about him, and am looking forward to listening.
Not to be snarky, and I don’t know anything about Cody’s bio, but fwiw, Powhatan isn’t really anywhere near Virginia coal country (it’s more suburban Richmond).
January 3, 2023 @ 11:08 am
I am not claiming that Powhatan is in coal country, and neither is Cody. If you listen to the songs, and specifically the 2nd track “Saints of Appalachia,” he talks specifically about how the business of coal reaped local communities, and if you read the interview I linked to in the review, Cody talks about doing electrical automation work for rock quarries in that region, and seeing it all first hand.
“I drove through West Virginia a lot,” Christian remembers. “You’re driving down I-64, and West Virginia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. But you look to the left and you see a trailer village and there are tarps on the roofs. Then you turn the corner and you see that golden dome. Just something seems wrong.”
My sense is Cody spent time throughout the region, both West of Powhatan in coal country, as well as in the shipyards on the coast which he also references in multiple songs. Just because Powhatan happens to be on his birth certificate doesn’t mean he’s unfamiliar with either. It seems he’s very familiar with both, and builds that into his music.
I tried to slightly reword things in the review to clear this up maybe, but really, when you listen to the songs, it all makes sense.
January 3, 2023 @ 11:49 am
Gotcha, thanks. That all makes sense. Like I said I haven’t even listed to the songs yet – but am excited to – just something that jumped out at me and I couldn’t help myself.
January 3, 2023 @ 2:14 pm
Definitely a fair point that you made. I always try to consider geography when writing reviews, especially when it’s broached in the music.
January 3, 2023 @ 11:38 am
Trigneous rock! This shit rips! Got damn that’s a good sound on my ears! The two weeks notice story + song is epic
Somewhat reminiscent of goodbye LA (jeremy pinnell’s last album which is rumored to rip as well)
January 3, 2023 @ 4:00 pm
That Jeremy Pinnel album actually sucks ass and was released in 2021 so folks should just shut the hell up about it
Jerry Clower's Ghost
January 3, 2023 @ 6:55 pm
January 4, 2023 @ 6:45 am
The Pinnel comments were funny at first, but I’m pretty sure everyone here knows who he is by now. Just redundant boot licking now.
January 5, 2023 @ 1:50 pm
Grew up nearby. One direction is the mountains, the other direction is the ocean. Both are close enough for weekend trips. It confuses folks from elsewhere when half your stories are about places digging coal to make power and the other half are about places digging sand to attract tourists.
January 3, 2023 @ 11:45 am
I like the sound of those two songs. Very clear and not overdone.
Love the two week notice, he must be a Dusty Slay fan!
January 3, 2023 @ 3:30 pm
Man this is really good! Only listened to it once so far but I’m digging it
January 3, 2023 @ 3:52 pm
Oh shoot it’s time to update the “All The Codys (Codie’s?) Of Country Music” playlist. I’ll add him after I listen to the album.
January 3, 2023 @ 6:34 pm
I only worked a year and a half at a shipyard before moving to architectural work. Shipyard has better stories but man it was too crazy for life with a young child! This guy sounds cool, look forward to checking him out!
January 3, 2023 @ 9:21 pm
Why I check into this site every day. Being introduced to Cody’s music is a great way to start out the year. What a nice album. The title song is a real keeper. Just need a warm day to play outside.
January 4, 2023 @ 6:54 am
I like these two songs. They are kinda similar to other songs from artists from that area that have come around since Tyler Childers made his name. Interesting enough though to give the rest of the album and back catalog, if there is any, a listen. Thanks
January 4, 2023 @ 10:00 am
Excited to see a review of a great album I’ve been enjoying since it released! Saints of Appalachia and Modern Day Siren are my favorites.
January 4, 2023 @ 3:43 pm
Really digging this record. I can hear the TC influence but he’s unique enough that I want to follow his career and see how he develops into his own
January 4, 2023 @ 4:30 pm
everything is better with banjo A+
January 4, 2023 @ 5:04 pm
LETS FUCKING GOOOOOOOOO
This is my favorite album of 2022 and I had no idea that Cody Christian was from five miles down the road from me. That makes me love it even more. I feel like this is a record for the saving country music community and I’m so stoked on Trig for helping promote this record.
January 4, 2023 @ 8:20 pm
I really liked these songs, but am super disappointed he doesn’t show up in the Bandsintown app. I’ve never seen where an artist isn’t listed. Does that mean he’s never toured or somehow needs to register with Bandsintown? I would love to catch a show!
January 6, 2023 @ 3:20 pm
Dammit, Trigger! I’m moving out of state in a few weeks, and I’m trying to save money for the move. You just keep scewing my wallet over with good stuff like this!
January 17, 2023 @ 2:13 pm
So how come the songs are unavailable to play?