The Pines : Where Something Wild Still Grows

This is an unofficial video I found on YouTube to celebrate the arrival of my copy of The Pines’ latest, splendid album Above The Prairie (released early February 2016). More info and my review of the album to follow in the next few weeks. In the meantime, all that’s left for me to say is: Enjoy.

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Back Road Bound’s Favorite Songs in 2015 (Pt.1)

Wait, you think, that can’t be right. Eric Andersen’s I Shall Go Unbounded on a 2015 mix? Damn right you are, it dates from 1966. But with all of my year end mixes they only contains a fraction of new music. I have neither got the time nor the money (yeah, I know we’ve got filesharing nowadays) to listen/buy all the new releases I could be interested in. And I am always discovering both new and old music, so just putting new music on a mix doesn’t really make that much sense to me. I originally intended to make two mixes but as I am, as usual, somewhat short of time this will be the only one , at least for now, as the second part is already pretty much finished so I might upload that at some point.

You can listen to the mix over on my Mixcloud page:

Eric Andersen : I Shall Go Unbounded (from ‘Bout Changes And Things)

Eric ANdersen 'Bout Changes And Things Cover jpegBelieve it or not, I hadn’t really heard about Eric Andersen until last year, but once I heard Thirsty Boots, I immediately was hooked on his Dylanesque acoustic guitar/harmonica sounds. He certainly wrote brilliant songs judging from the uniformly excellent ones on ‘Bout Changes And Things, and his voice is a bit better than Dylan’s.

Robert Earl Keen : This World Is Not My Home (from Happy Prisoner (The Bluegrass Sessions))

Robert Earl Keen Happy Prisoner Cover jpeg Happy Prisoner without a doubt is my favorite album released in 2015. Why it is ranked so far down in some of the Best Of 2015 lists (e.g. somewhere way down in the 30′ s in No Depression) is absolutely beyond me. Nothing about this album couldn’t be called perfect: Neither the choice of songs (most of them very old or traditionals) or their rough-around-the-edges treatment (take Wayfaring Stranger, doubtlessly recorded hundreds of times, sounds totally fresh and new on here) could possibly have been done better in a Bluegrass context. Genius.

Dave Carter with Tracy Grammer : When I Go (from When I Go)

Dave Carter With Tracy Grammer When I Go Cover JpegOne or the other of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer’s releases was always right next to my CD player for most of this year, and I probably listened to their music more than anybody else’s during the course of 2015. Due to Dave Carter’s early passing, they didn’t release too many albums, but every single one of them I own so far enchanted me to the highest degree. Theirs was a sound as gentle as imaginative, yet steeped in age-old traditions and the lyrics where alway astounding and captivating with their own kind of spiritualistic American realism. Their music is as pure and invigorating as a mountain stream.

Eric Bibb : Shingle By Shingle (from An Evenng with Eric Bibb)

An Evening With Eric Bibb Cover Jpeg

Yet another masterful release (recorded in 2002 and released in 2007) by Eric Bibb, an artist I have grown very, very fond of in the past 12 months. This concert shows him only accompanied by a bass player, in fine mood and on top of his game. All he needs to make a release as powerful and convincing as this if you ask me, although he is known not to limit his stylistic expressions and has got an all-encompassing sense of musical openness. Soulful sounds and lyrics, whether they are slightly melancholic (yet hopeful) as on Shingle By Shingle or full of glee as on Lonesome Valley or I Heard The Angels Singing, they are played to perfection in a nevertheless spontaneous way.

Conor Oberst : Four Strong Winds (from Another Day, Another Time)

Another Day Another Time Cover JpegFour Strong Winds is taken from the mighty fine concert performance inspired by The Coen Brother’s fab Inside Llewyn Davis. This is exactly how I like Mr. Bright Eyes/Desaparecidos like best. Just him, his brittle, still young sounding voice, a few acoustic guitars and background vocals (by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings), and a splendid song (by Canadian Folk/Country legend Ian Tyson). Lovely and melancholic.

Dar Williams : Southern California Wants To Be Western New York (from Mortal City)

Dar Williams Mortal City Cover Jpeg

A youthful Dar Williams convinces with this simple, affecting Acoustic Folk gem taken from one of her early releases, Mortal City is chock-full of gorgeous and intensively arranged songs, of which Southern California… is just one of my favorite songs.

The Pines : Banks Of The Ohio (from Pasture Folk Songs)

The Pines Pasture CD-cover jpegThe best of the young-ish Alternative Country/Dark Folk bands to come out of the US in a very long time in my opinion, The Pines don’t disappoint with this brief in between 7-song EP (read my review here). The traditional Banks Of The Ohio has hardly been done more melancholic and lovely than on here and is just one of the 7 (yes, that’s right) highlights on Pasture for me. Their next full-length album is due for release in early February 2016 (again on Red House Records), so watch this space.

Greg Brown : Poor Backslider (from Down In There)

Greg Brown Down In There Cover JpegAs soon as I heard and saw Greg Brown’s fantastic, spontaneous live rendition of Poor Backslider on the highly recommended Brown documentary Hacklebarney Tunes (available as part of the fine If I had Known CD/DVD compilation) I fell in love with the sad tale of a Hillbilly alcoholic going through all the motions that stem from such a scenario. This is a full-steam version with a fabulous slide guitar by Mr. Bo Ramsey (of course it is fabulous) and a brilliantly told tale straight of the American Heartland – who could do such a song better than Mr. Brown? Nobody, that’s who, if you ask me.

Bill Morrissey : Small Town On The River (from The Essential Collection)

Bill Morrissey Essential Collection Cover JpegSmall Town In The River for me has become one of Bill Morrissey’s signature songs. Like most of his songs it’s a wonderfully melancholic and beautiful tale of things not going too well, this time for a whole town.

Joan Shelley : Something Small (from Electric Ursa)

Joan Shelley Electric Ursa cover jpeg

Read my recent review of Joan Shelley’s 2014 album Electric Ursa here

Dave Rawlings Machine : The Trip (from Nashville Obsolete)

Dave Rawlings Machine Nashville Obsolete Cover Jpeg

The Trip is by far the most outstanding song on Nashville Obsolete (all of the almost 11 minutes of it). Totally relaxed and brilliantly executed and arranged (naturally I should say, this is a Dave Rawlings/Gillian Welch release after all)

Lucy Kaplansky : Every Grain Of Sand (from A Nod To Bob 2)

A Nod To Bob 2 Cover Jpeg

Like many songs on A Nod To Bob 2, Every Grain Of Sand made me realise (again) just how good a songwriter Bob Dylan is. Just listen to the lyrics on Every Grain Of Sand, that the stripped-down piano arrangement and Kaplansky’s vocals are quite beautiful does help too of course.

Jorma Kaukonen : San Francisco Bay Blues (from 2003-08-08 The Bottom Line New York City, NY)

Another artist I didn’t really have on my radar until a few months ago. Kaukonen is of course something of a legend, as a member of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, but I doubt there are many of both bands releases I would like better than the 35 song, 3 and a half hour set of expertly crafted, acoustic Swinging/Rock’n’Rolling and otherwise infectious Folk/Country-Blues fest that is this 2003 live set. Almost every song’s a hit and the musicianship (with a Mandolin and a slide guitar player accompanying him here) on display here is outstanding.

Jimmy LaFave : Not Dark Yet (from A Nod To Bob 2)

A Nod To Bob 2 Cover Jpeg

This version of one of the, for me, comparatively few highlights of Dylan’s later career, is outstanding due to its relaxed and wistful mood and the perfect, but not too perfect arrangement. Time for me to delve into LaFave’s other records I guess.

Judy Collins : Bob Dylan’s Dream (from Judy Collins Sings Dylan)

Judy Collins Sings Dylan Cover JpegBob Dylan’s Dream has always been a particular Dylan fave of mine, and this version is one of the best (and certainly the most beautiful) songs on an album that is, in parts, not doing Dylan’s songs justice, as quite a few songs are arranged far too tame and MOR for my taste. That said, there are a few other songs also worth hearing, but this is probably the most successfully realised one.

Donovan : Why Do You Treat Me Like You Do? (from Catch The Wind)

Donovan Catch The Wind Cover Jpeg

With Donovan being from Scotland, this is a departure from the usual and heavily North American-centric theme of this here blog. But Why Do You Treat me…? sounds suitably Dylanesque and is downright tongue in cheek fun

 

The Pines : Pasture (Folk Songs)

The Pines Pasture CD-cover jpeg2015 Red House Records

Pasture (Folk Songs) is yet another masterful release by The Pines, the first since 2012’s Dark So Gold album (review see here). It’s a 7-song EP, clocking in at just under 30 minutes. And mighty fine ones at that. Traditionals such as Wild Bill Jones and Banks Of The Ohio accompany well-chosen cover versions by artists such as Greg Brown, Iris DeMent, Mance Lipscomb, Mason Jennings and Joe Price.

The Pines are usually described as Gothic Folk, which in my opinion is slightly misleading, on here I only find it fitting to describe the Mance Lipscomb song Looked Dow The Road And Wondered. To be fair, the band is using that association quite often, e.g. in their cover artworks with a scarecrow on the front cover of Dark So Gold and an American Gothic-window on the back cover of Pasture. What I find much more adequate to discribe their music are associations with Dream Pop and even Shoegaze, as a variety of acoustic and electric guitars provide a dreamy background to almost all of their songs. Alex Ramsey’s piano and keyboards and Benson Ramsey’s lazy, sleepy vocals on most tracks adding the final flourishes making their music so engaging and memorable.

This is for the most parts, entirely calm and peaceful music, although it’s by no means always slow and quiet, as on airy and folky Greg Brown composition Are You Ready For The Fair? (which turns out wonderful, naturally), or the afore-mentioned Looked Down The Road And I Wondered.

Both traditional murder ballads Banks Of The Ohio and Wild Bill Jones are among the best songs on here (although it’s damn near impossible to pick the highlights on an EP is fabulous as Pasture), with both turning out utterly lovely in stark contrast to their violent lyrics. Joe Price’s Down On The Highway and (Greg Brown wife) Iris Dement’s He Reached Down, which is based on the biblical story of the good shepherd, are showing the Pines at their most gentle, dreamlike, and best.

I admit, I am an absolute admirer of The Pines’ music, and I belive they are one of the most singular bands in today’s Folk-Pop music scene and far ahead of most of their peers. This is music that’s good for the soul and mind, combining all the best influences and creating something wonderful with every single one of their releases.

Oh, and, happily Benson and Alex’s dad, Bo Ramsey, contributes his distinctive excellent slide guitar talents to Down On The Highway – nobody I can think of could grace a song quite so sparsely, yet soulfully.

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

 

 

The Pines : All The While (Live On 89.3 The Current)

A brand new discovery for me (they have been around for a few years though), The Pines totally enchanted me with this utterly fabulous and gorgeous version of their song All The While from their 2012 album Dark So Gold, which I don’t know yet, as I have only just ordered it. But if it’s only half as good as this track hints at, you probably will be reading about it on here soon. One of them is also the son of Bo Ramsey whom you can see talked/written about here before. Or here. And a few times more. If you also take into account that they are on Red House Records it’s perhaps no wonder they are this good. Anyway, here it is: