The Pines….Dark So Gold…an essay of sorts
If I haven’t been been a huge Pines fan for a few years, if I didn’t think Red House Records is one of the greatest indie record labels in business today, if their incredible banjo player Michael Rossetto wasn’t someone I’ve known and worked with in the past, if founding band member David Huckfelt hadn’t reached out to me on Facebook a month ago and offered to share their latest album with me, if two of the members weren’t Bo Ramsey’s kids and he didn’t help out in the production, and if my friend photographer Sandy Dyas didn’t help turn me on to the music scene that has sprung out of Iowa and spread north and beyond…I might not have been key punching this out today.
First off, I hardly do reviews and as you’ll see, I won’t be doing one today either. About all I’m qualified to tell you is whether or not I like something. And if it touches that special place deep inside me, if the harmonies harmonize, the instruments work together to create haunting or lasting melodies, and if the lyrics can hold meaning, and provoke thought….if all that occurs, I like to share it. And The Pines do all of that for me. All three of their albums, from beginning to end. And luckily for you, the newest album Dark So Gold comes out on January 31st and you can (quickly) get over to the Red House website and get a free track. You can buy the rest.
Scene One/Act Two: I’m getting ready to go walk the dog his morning. Kid left for school; wife at work. Check the email. Find this link to this Pines video. I watch it. Tell dog to hold on.
Let’s talk about The Pines.
I’ve shared with you before that I’m in California now, somewhere in the middle-desert inland coastal micro-climate, north of San Diego. For six winters we lived in Minneapolis where I worked for an indie record distributor that had nothing to do with Red House (which in hindsight was a good thing for them. We did very well for artists like Kenny Rogers and Mannheim Steamroller, and just a dreadful job for people like Bo Ramsey’s wife Pieta Brown who we distributed. Told that story before…so I’ll move on. But I’m still sorry Pieta.). But here’s something I don’t get: David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey met in Arizona, started making music together and for reasons I can’t fathom, having experienced both intense desert heat and forty below winters, they moved back to the Midwest and settled in Minnie. You might have figured out: I don’t know why people live there. But for the rest of us, the fact that they spend so much time indoors making music, except for the fools who think sitting on ice, cutting a hole and dropping in a fishing line is fun, is probably why this is such a hot scene in such a cold place.
Minneapolis…city of lights, city of dreams…so this morning I went to The Pines website to get a little background info and here is the first thing I read on their front page:
“Rising out of the prairies of the Midwest, The Pines are one of the most distinct and powerful indie-rock/Americana groups to hit the national scene in years. Emerging from the same Minneapolis music world that spawned such notable acts as The Jayhawks, The Replacements and Bob Dylan, The Pines have gathered a stunning line-up of musical talent, in both their live shows and on record, that has gained them a faithful and growing following.”
Honestly, it almost stopped me from writing this. Was it because they left out Peter Himmelman, Soul Asylum and Garrison Keillor? I don’t know….it feels like something a publicist might write and when I think of the Midwest it ain’tprairies that come to mind. It’s strip malls, fast food, bad architecture, serial killers and football fanatics that wear cheese blocks on their heads, sweatshirts with gophers and hats that say John Deere. And that mall.
“The mysterious sound of The Pines fuses Benson’s ethereal, otherworldly, heart-piercing songs with David’s earthy, darkly romantic and rough-hewn visionary tales. With masterful guitar work, beautiful vocals and the graceful keyboard and vocal additions of Benson’s brother Alex Ramsey, the core of The Pines’ sound captivates and elevates with rare intimacy.”
See? That type of prose is what separates a hack like me, a mere blogger in the sphere, from someone who can intelligently and articulately explain the essence of the sound The Pines make.
Scene Two/Act Three: Late at night in a rehearsal space the band assembles. Tired, a bit hungry, bundled in flannel.
Benson: So guys, for this new song I was thinking about something heart-piercing or maybe ethereal. What do you think?
David: Man, I’m sorry dude, but I’m really getting tired of that stuff. I had this rough-hewn visionary tale in mind for tonight, and was thinking we might add in some masterful guitar work too.
Enough. What you need to know…as ripped from said site.
Here’s the current band lineup: banjo player Michael Rossetto (Spaghetti Western String Co.), drummer J.T. Bates (Michel Portal, John Gorka), bassist James Buckley (Ed Harcourt, Daniel Johnston, Dosh) and Benson’s brother Alex Ramsey on keyboards. Shared the stage with such diverse acts as Bon Iver, Mavis Staples, Arcade Fire, Iris DeMent, Mason Jennings and Spider John Koerner.
(Time out: Want to know how deep this Midwest connection thing is? Iris DeMint is married to Greg Brown, whose longtime guitarist is Bo Ramsey (dad of Benson and Alex) and is the husband and musical partner to Greg’s daughter Pieta and not only makes his own great solo records, but has produced people like Lucinda Williams and Kelly Pardekooper who claims that he painted Sandy Dyas’ house. Huh.)
I’m done. This is a great band, all three albums get my thumbs up, but the new one is the first to check out and than move backwards. They threaten to be at SXSW this year, and they also mention some tour thing in the works.
And I’ll end with a special shout out to Ellen Stanley from Red House who sent me the video link today. Love you folks.