Pinmonkey – Take this job and play it
Founded on the tenets of Carter Family close harmonies and the gritty pop-soul ethos of Muscle Shoals, Pinmonkey seeks to be openly informed by the past while sounding fully engaged in the present.
To the band’s credit, the fusion of diverse influences, which also includes trad-gospel and even ’70s classic rock, never comes across as labored. However, Pinmonkey adds their own particular something to the neo-traditional flavor of Speak No Evil, their debut on their own Drifter’s Church label.
There are even traces of an earthy Appalachia, courtesy of the honeyed tenor of lead vocalist Michael Reynolds. “It’s not something we sat around and discussed,” says Reynolds. “Everything we do comes about innately, which is why I think it works.”
Reynolds’ immersion in the worlds of dry Southern gospel and Alta Vista hill country music came early, in both the churches and the after-church basement picking parties of Arnold’s Valley, Virginia. After hearing Porter & Dolly for the first time on his cousin’s 8-track, “I announced to my family right then, at 13, that I was never going to get a real job, that I was going to move to Nashville and be a singer.”
Shortly after Reynolds wrote his first songs (“very Elizabethan, very minor-key, and somewhat gospel”) and sang in front of the church in a few talent contests, his parents dropped him off on a Music City sidewalk and wished him luck. Though they made sure to add, “Get ready for the hardest job of your life.”
They were right. After years of directing traffic and retail jobs, Reynolds finally was persuaded by a friend to explore the writers night scene. “She heard me sing once in the back room of a record store, after closing. She asked if anyone had heard me yet and I said no. She said, ‘Well, we’re going to fix that.'”
Reynolds found his musical niche after hooking up with Chad Jeffers (dobro), Michael Jeffers (bass), and Rick Schell (drums and high harmonies). The group quickly set to work recording Speak No Evil in the room above the Jeffers’ family garage. They drew material for the record from songwriting friends Gillian Welch (“Two Days”, co-written with Matt Rollings) and Duane Jarvis (“Love Sometimes”, co-written with Joy Lynn White). Reynolds blends in self-penned tunes including “Black Train”, with snarky lyrics and a dusty, Tom Petty-like groove, and “Sweet Blossom”, a lonesome ballad with laid-back phrasing.
Having developed a reputation for a rollicking live show (including an incendiary bluegrass cover of Sugar Ray’s “Fly”), Pinmonkey inked a deal with RCA just as their self-styled, self-financed debut was completed. Asked about any future experimentation with pop music a la “Fly”, however, Reynolds laughs: “Well, hopefully our days of becoming a novelty act are several years off.”