On All That Ever Wasn't, Canipe and company clamber through a rugged, stripped-down, unhappy alt-country playlist that could earn them the nickname Sons of Son Volt. Jay Farrar can be heard in Canipe's hoarse, strained voice, as can Jeff Tweedy, but any comparison distracts from Canipe's presence as a songwriter who's capable of moment-capturing lyrics that would make both the above-mentioned Uncle Tupelans feel like dolts. On "The Long Drive Home," for example, Canipe turns the mundane but life-threatening dilemma of driving home from a late show into a meditation on young love in a small town: You're beautiful tonight under a neon bar sign/Just a smile and a nod to let me know I'm alive.
That's not to say the record's perfect. Rather, it's a stepping-stone kind of album, with hooks and piano-and-guitar saloon rockers that, though impressive for an on-again, off-again college-town band, often come across tentatively, making the songs seem too encumbered to take flight the way rock and roll is meant to do. And when it's not tied to a strong melodic line, Canipe's voice ends up lost in a groaning, melancholic meander. The band will likely gather more than a few fans; it may need to look more at the audience and less at itself.