Monday, January 16, 2012

CD REVIEW - Three Tall Pines - All That's Left

By: W.J. Hallock

Three Tall Pines - All That's Left

Released: 2011

The four gentlemen in this band all should have been born about 100 years ago. Their melodies, lyrics, sound, feel, instrumentation and singing all hearken back to another place in time. The music on this CD is simple, spare, stark and austere….. but, authentic, honest and real. And the most impressive aspect of “All That’s Left” is the fact that all the songs presented here are originals. It’s very easy to take this music at face value, because there is nothing on the musical landscape that one can compare Three Tall Pines to. They are definitely one of a kind!

      Very vivid images come into my head as I listen….. especially to the song “Black Sunday Blues.“ Pictures from the Ken Burns PBS series “The Dustbowl,” scenes from “The Grapes Of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, a snapshot I have of my Grampa Roy with his team of horses, Ted and Tug, building roads for the WPA after he lost his farm during The Great Depression. 

     I can even see my Mother as a little girl witnessing three inches of Oklahoma red dirt covering their Sunday dinner table after a wind storm had blown it eight hundred miles north all the way to the sand hills of Nebraska. 

     These songs are the grist of real life America in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. How did Joe Lurgio and Dan Bourdeau, the writers of these twelve songs, tap this well of early Americana so convincingly? Maybe, just maybe, their talent is that they can write so simply, yet expansively, that each individual listener’s memories and experiences are jostled loose,  enhanced by the music and enjoyed all over again. Songwriters who can make the listener a participant in their compositions are truly gifted. Whether writing together, or separately, this CD tells me that Dan and Joe both DO have the “Gift.”

      Recorded over a three day period at High & Dry Studios, Somerville, MA. in a live, everybody playing and singing at the same time setting, is part of the appeal and character of this CD. The recording process adds a patina of “old timey” fun and exuberance. Very few overdubs were used to complete the project. 

     The band had done their homework and knew just what they were going after in the studio, and with the aid of friends Avi Salloway and Charlie Rose, they slam dunked the work and came away with a first rate CD that sounds as unique and individual as they are. The magic ingredient here was FOCUS! Engineer Dan Cardinal did a wonderful job of putting all the pieces of the puzzle together technically so that the only thing the musicians had to do was create. 

       Mandolin player Joe Lurgio wrote and sings lead on two stand out cuts on the CD, “Lay Me Down” and “Hard Rain.” Guest banjo player Gabe Hirschfield sits in on “Hard Rain” and it sizzles! Joe nails the lead vocal! He also wrote the instrumental track “Rosebud.” He has a very tasty way of playing….. he’ll add little harmony lines to the fiddle or guitar lines that sparkle. Very Spartan, but classy! 

      Upright bassist Gian Pangaro, is one of the most fascinating bass players I’ve heard in years. His timing is impeccable, so that gives his adventurous and eclectic dexterity free rein to try just about anything. And he does! I find myself referring to him as the “Angry Bear.” 

     He will take off on a bass solo and attack it every way possible! I even had to ask an old friend what the term for using a bow was, just to help me describe him. He referred to it as “playing arco,” and Gian can definitely do that…. Listening to him play is like a roller coaster ride. Up, down, easy, hard, fast, slow, it is an emotional experience. He’s also a double threat. His dobro playing, on “Weary Traveler” and “Rosebud” show off his tender and melodic side, as well as his hot licks. To add him to the songs, engineer Dan had to do some of the rare over-dubs on this CD. Adding those tracks was well worth the effort. 

      Conor Smith is the violinist for Three Tall Pines. His classical training adds another musical twist to the band identity. The interplay between the mandolin, fiddle, guitar and any other instrument that may have been used on a specific song is always tight, concise and well-rehearsed. 

     The arrangements are thought out and played with precision. But….  there is a BIG difference between a violinist and a fiddle player. Conor’s style fits very well into that “sound” that Three Tall Pines has. In fact, his training is probably just what this band needed to help them hone in on “Their” sound. Any other “fiddle” player might not have added to their musical uniqueness quite this well. He’s the right man for the right job.

      Guitarist Dan Bourdeau sings most of the lead vocals and nicely fills any holes with his rhythm playing. It took a while to figure out just HOW to listen to his singing…….  Maybe its an accent, a regional flavor or just the way he enunciates that adds an unusual inflection to his voice. Maybe he just slurs his words together because that’s the way he sings. 

     Once I got to listening more closely, the more I grew to like and enjoy his vocals. On Dan’s song “Station Line,“ he does it as a duet with Celia Woodsmith, of Della Mae. Their voices work GREAT together! It’s one of the best songs on the CD. 

     One of this band’s assets is that their vocals are different….. just like their songs, arrangements and sound are different. Anything that sets a musician or band apart only makes them more interesting. And “interesting” sells CD’s and builds a fan base! 

     The way that Dan and Joe are going about writing and singing their songs has them right on track to push Three Tall Pines as far as they want to go. Another vocal gem is “Weary Traveler.” It’s the last song and they have a dozen friends in the studio singing along as the “Weary Traveler Chorus.” A very nice way to end the CD. You’ll find yourself singing the song long after it’s over! It’s catchy, “churchy” and endearing. 

      Three Tall Pines is another of the new wave of acoustic groups to come out of the Boston area. It must be fertile ground…… the crop of original music originating from there is really something to hear. And yes…. this CD, “All That’s Left,” needs to be in YOUR record collection.


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