The Pines : Tremolo and Dark So Gold

The Pines are the next in a line of great artists out of the Midwest scene that brought us Greg Brown, Dave Moore and Bo Ramsey, all artists I hold in very high regard indeed, as you will undoubtedly have noticed if you visited my blog before (see here, here or here or have a look at my tag cloud). Not only share two members of the Pines the surname with Bo Ramsey, they are indeed his sons Benson and Alex. Benson is one of two principal songwriters alongside David Huckfelt, his brother Alex can be heard on keyboards and piano. They are based in Minneapolis, also home to their label Red House Records. I have to applaud The Pines for chosing Red House as their label home anyway, as it is perhaps not one of the hippest labels to be on if you are young musicians (which they are). Which of course isn’t to say Red House isn’t a good label as far as I’m concerned, just the opposite as I have come to have a tremendous love for a lot of their artists (and I am by far not finished exploring their roster in more detail).

The fact that the Ramsey brothers and Huckfelt hail from Iowa is very much in evidence in their music and extends to the cover design of both records that feature barns, scarecrows, fields and woods. Given their ages, naturally their sound is a tad more modern than that of the artists mentioned above, although it has to be said, rather marginally so.

Having found out about the Ramsey brothers involvement in The Pines somewhere I wasted no time to do a bit of research and luckily found the live in studio recording of one of Dark So Gold’s best tracks All The While (see my post from a few weeks ago) and I have to say that the live version is actually even a bit better than the one on the album, as it is a perfect rendition with a superb arrangement (see the outstanding and understated percussion work of drummer J.T. Bates for example).

 

The Pines Dark So Gold album cover jpeg

Dark So Gold (2012)

Their style can be described as Gothic Americana Folk, with some moderate blues leanings, and it’s fitting then that I hear traces of Sixteen Horsepower in a number of songs, most notably Be There In Bells, which is one of the few tracks on either album which could almost be described as a rock song – thankfully, and surprisingly given their young age, in my opinion is the fact that they totally avoid the temptation to ‘rock out’ and make do without the usual distorted guitars that more often than not go with bands their age – I for one am very happy about that.

Others hear traces of Ryan Adams in Benson Ramsey’s vocal delivery (Rob at 45spins), a comparison they can probably live with well too, I should imagine.

As mentioned above, instead of turning up their amps, they fortunately prefer to imbue their music with melancholy and a rather peaceful (if sometimes a tad moody), dreamy atmosphere and introspective and rather soft arrangements that don’t sound one bit lifeless or dull. Things are helped further by the skilful acoustic-electric guitar interplay and Alex Ramsey’s keyboard/piano sounds. In contrast to the predecessor Tremolo the band also took on a more hands-on role with producing the album that shows how much they have grown together as a band. Three tracks, Moonrise, IA , Grace Hill and album closer Losing the Stars are rather short instrumental tracks, short in length maybe but high on ambience. Other highlights for me on Dark So Gold are the dark opener Cry Cry Crow, the lovely and slightly uptempo If By Morning and the rather optimistic and catchy and folky Chimes.

 

The Pines Tremolo Cover jpeg

Tremolo, the 2009 predecessor to Dark So Gold doesn’t sound much different compared to their latest release. The main difference being the fact that at this stage The Pines were actually a duo comprised of Benson Ramsey and David Huckfelt also most of the other musicians that can be heard on Dark So Gold are on here as well. Also noteworthy and clearly audible is the bigger role Bo Ramsey does play on here. This can most outstandingly heard on Behind The Time which features one of his trademark sparse, understated and soulful electric guitar solos that literally make the hairs on my arms stand up almost every time I listen to the song – nobody I can think of on top of my head can do that sort of thing better than him. He also does provide the beautiful Weissenborn that can be heard on Lonesome Tremolo Blues.Alex Ramsey’s keyboards are given slightly more space to shape a couple of songs, namely a contemporary update of Mississippi John Hurt’s Spike Driver Blues and album closer Shiny Shoes. The album is chock-full of excellent songs, I especially love the exceedingly tuneful (and fittingly accompanied by brushed drums and/or percussion) songs such as Heart & Bones, Meadows of Dawn and Skipper And His Wife – the latter being written by Spider John Koerner, apparently a semi-legendary Folk artist I wasn’t familiar with at all until recently, but one I will most definitely be investigating in more detail in the near future – Skipper And His Wife being an absolutely wonderful song, although the arrangement on here I suppose is quite different from his.

The Pines offer a very welcome alternative to the myriad Alternative bands around – theirs is not the sound of an urban generation but decidedly just the opposite. Their voice is one infused with true values and a rural background which is pervading pretty much every inch of their sound and making them something rather special and absolutely cherishable in today’s music scene.

http://www.thepinesmusic.com

 

 

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My first encounter with the American Bison/Buffalo

This post isn’t meant to be an academic study of the American Bison or anything in that area, I am posting this purely because seeing them has been such an impressive experience for me. Having read about them and the sad story of their near-demise in the 19th Century quite a bit recently I have become increasingly fascinated by them and when the time came to plan my recent holiday in the Canadian province of Alberta I was more than delighted to learn that they can be found in a couple of places throughout the province. First and one of the best addresses (as far as I am aware) being Elk Island National Park, located less than an hour east of the provincial capital of Edmonton (which was my first stop). So I didn’t hesitate (I even joked with my friends that I wouldn’t return from my trip before I managed to have seen at least one), to drive over to this delightful, 184 km² big National Park with its captivating mix of aspen parkland and boreal forests after my arrival. Fortunately I didn’t have to search too long to spot some, although I didn’t encounter large herds of them (apparently there are over 300 living in Elk Island National Park) so here are some photos I took, being thoroughly impressed, as well as a bit intimidated by their size and statue, although they apparently are rather peaceful fellows from all I heard. Wandering around one of the park’s biggest lakes, Astotin Lake, I felt a bit uncomfortable to be honest, as there was faeces lying around in a number of places, which given its size could only have come from them and I didn’t exactly know what other types of wildlife are living in the park (I am a bit of a coward) It being March, I had the park pretty much to myself and it was snow-covered and the lake iced-over – which apart from me being a bit worried, was a wonderful experience and probably my closest encounter was wilderness so far (and I love snow).

So here are a few photos from the bison I saw at Elk Island National Park

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American Bison at Elk Island National Park

American Bison at Elk Island National Park
Another encounter with them took place at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site where they were fenced in somewhat but that site otherwise being equally fascinating and rather eerily quiet and forlorn at this time of year. I imagine there are a lot more people there in summer, but there were none apart from myself on my visit.

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Canada, here I come

To celebrate my first ever trip to Canada starting tomorrow here’s one of my all-time favorite tracks, taken from Blue Rodeo’s 1991 album Casino. It still sounds perfect to me, one of the best songs ever when it comes to 1980’s/early ’90’s Power/Guitar-Pop in my opinion. I really should do a mix with my favorite tracks from that period and style, come to think of it (remember REM being great?).

Ever since I first got that album over 20 years ago, I decided to go to Canada one day. It took me all that time to make it happen, but now the time has finally come and I’m feeling very excited.

Keokuk, Iowa

Keokuk, Iowa watertower

Keokuk, Iowa is a city of about 10000 people in Southeastern Iowa. It is named after the Sauk chief Keokuk, who is commemorated with a statue and thought to be buried in the Rand Park on the edge of the Mississippi River.

Chief Keokuk statue, Keokuk, Iowa

Rand Park, Keokuk, Iowa

There is a fine display of historic architecture in Keokuk’s downtown area, although quite a lot of buildings have seen better days and were seemingly no longer occupied especially the shops on the ground floor.

Fraternal Order Of Eagles building, Keokuk, Iowa

Abandoned store, Main Street, Keokuk, Iowa

Main Street, Keokuk, iowa

Keokuk, Iowa

Grand Theater, Keokuk, Iowa

Lutz & Stahl printers building, Keokuk, Iowa

Mark Twain’s brother Orion was a long-time resident of Keokuk and Twain wrote about Keokuk in his Life On The Mississippi book, which is one of my favorite books of his.

Keokuk, Iowa