Off the charts: Pines spin slow, dark tales from the heart of America

2012-02-10T00:05:00Z Off the charts: Pines spin slow, dark tales from the heart of AmericaCHRIS JORGENSEN Off the charts The Billings Gazette
February 10, 2012 12:05 am  • 

The Pines

“Dark So Gold”

Red House Records

With songs like “Losing the Stars” and “Rise Up and Be Lonely,” it’s easy to see where The Pines are headed on their third album — deeper into the dark, dark woods.

The Midwestern band is fronted by David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey, son of Bo Ramsey, who have always been Depression-era farmers at heart. Their past albums have been an easy blend of mountain folk, blues and rock.

On “Dark So Gold,” the boys have tightened it up some, getting closer to the gothic Americana band their 2009 album “Tremelo” hinted at.

Even with all the darkness, the songs crackle with Ramsey’s shimmering electric guitar work and thin but earnest vocals. The spare “Cry Cry Crow” and “If By Morning” set the tone with their weary tales of hunger for food and love.

Although they’re all fine musicians, the power in instrumentals like “Moonrise, Iowa” and the piano-based “Losing the Stars” comes not from their player prowess, but their restraint. Even their most epic songs, the bluesy “Dead Feathers” and the six-minute “Be There In Bells” never rise much above a dream.

That tempo, however, can get a little wearisome and you wonder why the band doesn’t cut loose with more songs like the half-chugging and fully charming “Chimes.”

“I’m going where the digital dream don’t roam/ Through the corn and through the cold/ To find me something I can hold,” Ramsey sings.

Ruthie Foster

“Let It Burn”

Blue Corn Music

Who the heck is Ruthie Foster?

Or, more accurately, what is she?

Raised in a church choir, she sang in the U.S. Navy Band before a failed big label record deal forced her to get a day job. Later, as a folky knocking around Austin, she won tons of local music awards.

Then she drifted into soul and the blues where the Blues Music Association named her best traditional blues artist one year and best contemporary artist the next.

Then came the unclassifiable “Truth According to Ruthie Foster,” which won a Grammy nomination in 2009.

So, naturally, she follows that up with a funk and R&B fueled covers album recorded in New Orleans with the Blind Boys of Alabama.

And these are not obscure covers or public domain chestnuts. Only someone with a voice like Foster’s would dare take on songs from vocalists as distinctive as Johnny Cash, Adele and soul icon William Bell.

And, while it doesn’t always work — a stripped-bare “Ring of Fire” slowed to a dirge — you have to marvel at her audacity.

With Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain,” she channels Chaka Khan, and finds the soul in The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” and David Crosby’s “Long Time Gone.” And, she out-blues the Black Keys on their own “Everlasting Light” with a Mick Taylor-style guitar sizzle.

Cloud Nothings

“Attack On Memory”

Carpark Records

Recording under the name Cloud Nothings, with only a computer and cheap microphone, Dylan Baldi began creating lo-fi indie tunes in his parents Cleveland basement to kill time between university classes.

In 2009, his songs started spreading across the blogosphere and into all the cool kids’ iTunes. He played a few shows in New York and several at SXSW.

And then in 2011, he formed a full band and soon the Cloud Nothings were at work on “Attack On Memory,” which after two collections of scattered recordings is Baldi’s first proper studio effort.

Produced by Steve Albini (who has worked in the past with Nirvana, Pixies, Mogwai and Low), the album is a total overhaul of Baldi’s solo sound. Bigger and louder, the record trudges along with the opener “No Future/No Past,” which goes from a Thom Yorke moan and groan to showing off Baldi’s screaming chops.

After the bold nine-minute track “Wasted Days,” the album becomes a bit more accessible with a couple of the catchiest indie rock anthems since The Black Keys “Tighten Up.”

Where in the past, becoming an 18-year-old rock star was only a daydream, Cloud Nothings is proof we’ve entered a new musical age. Now, any young musician with Pro Tools and some actual talent can throw his tunes on the web and wait for them to catch fire.

— Logan Jorgensen contributed this review

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