The Whispering Pines (Stovepony Records) – Album Review
For fans of: The Low Anthem, Gene Clark, Luke Doucet, Joni Mitchell, Handsome Family, Golden Smog and Chris Hillman.
When you hear an album that reminds you of your childhood and your dreams, the best film you’ve seen all year, your favourite record of all time, and your first love – that has to be a good day.
The Whispering Pines CD captures so many things I never expected; coming, as it does, from The Lucky Strikes’ Matthew Boulter I imagined something slightly cockier, smarter-cleverer, cheekier. But it’s none of these things … in a good way. The Lucky Strikes, from Southend-on-Sea, are a wildly rocking black-clad 5-piece band doing country/folk imbued with the spirit of The Stones, The Black Keys and Tom Waits. This, albeit a ‘brother from another mother’, is something quite different.
The cover is a clue: it may be the loveliest CD cover I’ve seen in years. Be honest – does anyone look at new release CDs these days and think ‘that’s a beautiful cover’? (Except maybe the Fleet Foxes’). But this one drew me in. I think it’s a woodcut, of a small, solitary farm house on a snow covered hill, the moon exhaling clouds into the pitch black sky above. Don’t you want it already?
From the Western tinged starter ‘Come the Morning’ to the slightly scratchy vinyl-outtake-style finale ‘Gold Ring’, the thirteen tracks seem to roll past very quickly. I don’t know if they were conceived as a unit, but they sure seem to fit together. Track nine ‘Waiting on You’ is the most beautiful and romantic on the album. The luscious vocal, light banjo and touch of tinkling percussion is a delicate treatment of what could be arranged as a massive orchestral climax to a concert hall performance. Matthew sings beautifully in his lower register, soft and careful – something he presumably reserves for non-Lucky Strikes days. ‘Two Bullets’ retains the drama of his trademark storytelling – with murder, whisky and a sheriff – albeit atop another perfect, sweet and light vocal. Many of the tracks evoke a mood and indefinite place, ready-made for cinema – ‘The Poetry Society’ begs for placement into the next Miranda July or Coen Brothers film. Its surprise ending would be a stand-out moment – if the whole album wasn’t so surprising already.
The Whispering Pines is one of those CDs you have to own. I realised recently that I don’t own a single album of one of my favourite bands, but that’s because there are some acts that you have to see live – it’s an incomparable experience. The Whispering Pines is beautiful live (after seeing Matthew play in London a few weeks ago, I can attest) but even better on CD, where you can experience the full range of instruments (including fiddle, Hammond organ, banjo, pedal steel and dulcimer) and lush vocal arrangements. Get one for yourself, and one for your best friend – they’ll thank you.
The Whispering Pines CD is officially released in May 2012 through Stovepony Records but you can buy it now from Matthew at Lucky Strikes gigs.