The Red Pine Timber Company: Different Lonesome
So, Gavin JD Munro, songwriter-in-chief for the late, lamented Southpaw, has got himself a new band. It’s a large band, too: nine musicians make up The Red Pine Timber Company and something like twice that many make guest appearances on this new album. From the inner sleeve photo you might guess that he’s headed in the direction of The Southern Tenant Folk Union: the band are dressed up as backwoodsmen, clutching their acoustic instruments (and a hunting rifle) and looking like they might present their show clustered round a single mic, bluegrass style. Well, not exactly. All those acoustic instruments might make an appearance along the way, but the sound this band make is characterised more by some great country electric guitar from Aaron Brake and some mighty firm drumming from Cale Pontet. Not to mention the horn section…
As with his former bandmates in The New Madrids, he opens the new album with a song that seems to pick up where Southpaw left off. Lonely Days Are Gone has the easy tunefulness, the electric guitar twang, the harmony vocals – it all sounds beautifully familiar and the addition of some horns just takes the old sound to a fresh level. For a rarity, it’s even a happy lyric about a lover returning and the sound is bright and bouncy, the sound of a sad soul finally finding the clouds parting in front of him. As the twelve tracks progress the rich variety of sounds that all those musicians offer is well explored; it’s probably not too often that you hear a mandolin jangling and a sax getting lowdown and sleazy on the same song, but you get that here. Each song seems to contain the ghost of its American forebear as Gavin puts his own unique spin onto classic country, mid-90s country noir, country gospel….and a few other things along the way. Curiously, the lyrics seem to positively avoid a sense of place (with the exception of Sweet Seville, which offers a whiff of exoticism to a Scots audience or an American audience) and I get the feeling that the whole project is pitched in the hope of finding an audience on both sides of the Atlantic. And why not? These guys are certainly as good, and as interesting, as anything I’ve heard from the American cousins recently.
The ace in the hole that this band has is vocalist Katie Burgoyne; there are great contributions from her throughout the album, doing her Emmylou to Gavin’s Gram, but on the title track magic things happen. Different Lonesome is my favourite song of the year so far, and a lot of that is down to an extraordinary performance from Ms Burgoyne. I can think of no higher praise than that she reminds me of Aimee Curl, who sings with Furnace Mountain these days. Starting off singing harmony behind the main man the otherworldy power in her voice gradually comes to the fore; there’s a quiet moment a few minutes in when you think the song’s about to drift to a quiet conclusion but then, bang! The harmonica blows powerfully, the electric guitar goes off on a trip of measured power and Katie gets left in the spotlight and lets rip. Like Aimee Curl, she seems to embody the spirit of alt-country/country noir, call it what you will, and to hear her sing like that is to feel you’ve had a glimpse of something fundamental in the human spirit. Yep, that good.
In keeping with that alt-country feel there’s plenty of dark themes in the lyrics, though that doesn’t necessarily make the music downbeat. Dark Clouds, for example, charts the depression in the aftermath of a love affair but the music is quite rousing, as if the scorned lover is back on his feet and determined to face the future. There’s a bit of drift in the middle of the album and maybe sacrificing one or two of these songs may have led to greater impact from the album as a whole, but things really pick up with The Way It Was. Just getting everybody to sing “Ho! That’s the way it was!” at the end of each verse makes this cheerful look back at a happy love affair hugely infectious fun – one to turn up loud, bop around to and then collapse laughing. Shades of classic country come next as Gavin and Katie duet on The Speaking of Your Name, and then the album closes with a compelling take on an old traditional gospel number, Oh Sinnerman. It’s gospel, Jim, but not as we know it. Banjo, guitar and trumpet are at the core of the arrangement and Gavin sings the simple lyric round and round until it becomes almost like a chant, hypnotic and compelling. It kind of sounds like the devil’s in closer attendance than the Lord – think you’d better watch out, Sinnerman.
Great stuff, then: plenty of variety, plenty of interest and a few absolute knockout tracks – another band it’ll be a pleasure to catch out and about this summer.
Red Pine Timber Co. on No Depression