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).
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.
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.