Album Reviews

The Pines

Above The Prairie

Artist:     The Pines

Album:     Above The Prairie

Label:     Red House Records

Release Date:     02/05/2016


Picture the mist over fields in the early spring. Some sections are dense, while others have a wispy quality, the perfect image to describe the music of the Pines, with their seductively layered cinematic sound on Above The Prairie, their fifth release. While this might be their most fully realized work, exemplifying their haunting, moody, captivating aura, it adds some interesting elements and textures.  The instrumental “Lost Nation” features Uillean pipes and synthesizers, while “Time Dreams” is a poem spoken by the late Native American activist John Trudell, set to music by the Pines. As with their other efforts, you want to turn down the lights, grab a glass of wine and lose yourself in the spooky, ethereal atmosphere. One writer captured it perfectly – “The Pines sound like an Eno of the Great Plains.”

Leaders Benson Ramsey and David Huckfelt have similar voices and approaches to dark, other-worldly songwriting, but the one steering the ship– as he’s done on all their releases– is producer Bo Ramsey, Benson’s (and Alex the keyboardist’s) dad. Even though he doesn’t play his patented guitar on this record, his resonating, melodic fusing of blues, rock and folk is undeniably evident. Ramsey’s offspring and bandmates have matured, and settled into their unique signature sound, as evidenced by wrapping all of the songs between the first and third take.

Few bands balance electric and acoustic instruments as well as the Pines. For the most part, the lyrics mourn the passing of solid, rural farm culture that by now is a fixture to the overall sound the band delivers. This stark imagery seems to perfectly reflect the photograph on the album’s cover– a breathtaking canopy of stars, set against abandoned cabins on expansive grasslands. There’s loneliness, and a search for the connections between the Earth and the beyond. The song titles are dead giveaways.  Consider “Aerial Ocean,” “Hanging from the Earth” and “Sleepy Hollow.” None of the songs on the album seem even remotely celebratory, except perhaps their soaring, engaging single, “Hanging from the Earth.” Buoyant music frames lyrics like, “The past and the future are tearing me apart,” and even the choral “Here,” which features many members of the Greg Brown and Bo Ramsey families, is somber in tone. Nonetheless, you will likely be drawn right in. The Pines create enough spaces in their music for your mind to wander into lots of places. Theirs is a sound like no other.

– Jim Hynes

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