Greg Brown & Bo Ramsey at D&G’s Tap House in Ames, Iowa

In March 2013 I finally, and belatedly, discovered the music of Greg Brown and through his albums, also that of Bo Ramsey, his long-term musical partner, and not only in my opinion I guess, guitar genius. How fond I have grown of either artist should come as now surprise if you have browsed through this blog before. I posted raving reviews of Greg Brown’s album If I Had Known  and Bo Ramsey’s very fine album Fragile and have been listening to both artists a hell of a lot of time last spring and summer (and still do, actually). When planning last year’s trip through the Midwest which lead me, only partly coincidentally, through Iowa, I was looking to find out if Greg Brown was playing any shows in the 2 weeks I was there – without too much hope that would actually be the case. So I guess you can imagine that I was more then overjoyed to discover that both were playing a show in the central Iowa town of Ames which I could easily fit into my schedule. After spending about 10 exciting and interesting days on the road travelling through Nebraska and Iowa their show on the 27th of September was ideally timed towards the end of my trip so the timing was right too.

Unfortunately I neglected to take notes about the songs they played but it was, naturally, an excellent show. I was especially surprised and delighted about Bo Ramsey’s brief 7 or so song set in the beginning. He sounded quite different compared with his album Fragile, which was the only album of his I currently know (a fact I plan on rectifying soon). He sounded very energetic, slightly rough, with songs, as far as I could follow the lyrics, mainly about travelling on dirt roads, trains and other similarly rustic subject matter, which was of course much to my liking.

Bo Ramsey at D&G's in Ames, Iowa

Their set together was also splendid, but as I wrote above I can’t really remember exactly which songs they played. As Greg Brown has released about 25 studio albums throughout his career, they have obviously got a wide variety of brilliant songs to choose from. Unfortunately I wasn’t really able to take good quality photos as the show was packed and I was a bit locked in the middle of the audience, so the photos on here are rather poor, sorry about that. But just being there was a dream come true and most probably a chance to catch them playing a show together I won’t have again, so I am absolutely happy with how things went.

Bo Ramsey adn Greg Brown in Ames, IA

Bo Ramsey and Greg Brown in Ames, IA

Pretty much the only song I do remember hearing is Here In The Going Going Gone.  As I didn’t possess The Poet Game at the time, it was brand new to my ears. It immediately became one of my favorite Greg Brown songs, in my opinion it’s one of his finest compositions, both musically, but especially lyrically. It was also immediately stuck in my head, so back in my hotel I tried to find a video of it on YouTube, I didn’t find one of his versions but I found this absolute gem of a cover version. I must have watched the video about 10 times that night (and many more since). The guys playing this seem to be only gigging in the Seattle area and I could find very little information about their work, and, sadly, no recording. I was a little bit sceptical about the singer’s voice at first, but have become quite fond of it in the meantime. And that violin is just wonderful. A cover version doing a great song more than justice.

 

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

 

 

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

Stanton, Iowa

Stanton is a small town in Montgomery County, about 65 miles east of Omaha/Council Bluffs with a population of around 700 people. It was known as the ‘Little White City’ when all houses were painted white. That apparently isn’t the case nowadays, but most of the houses I saw on my brief visit to Stanton were. It was settled mainly by Swedish immigrants in the 19th century. It’s also ‘famous’ for being the one-time home of a family that was killed onboard the Titanic, and one of them, whose body was recovered, is buried in Stanton.

Former gas station, Stanton, Iowa

Church, Stanton, iowa

The Emigrants statue, Stanton, Iowa

R.I.P. Phil Everly

I am not professing to be a big fan of theirs or anything like this and the last time I really listened to their music was a long time ago, but they were important in their time period, so here’s my tribute to them at the time of Phil Everly’s passing. What else to post on here then Wake Up Little Susie from 1957.

I  stumbled upon one of their childhood hometowns in which they lived for a number of years and in which their dad had a radio show on a local station, Shenadoah, Iowa on a recent trip to Iowa. That house is tiny!

Everly Brothers childhood home, Shenandoah, iowa

Shenadoah, Iowa