The Pines: Dark So Gold

Paul Whyte

The Pines are a Twin Cities based indy/folk/Americana group that consists of seven members including: J.T. Bates (drums), James Buckley (upright/bass), Alex Ramsey (keys), Michael Rossetto (banjo), Jacob Hanson (electric guitar) and the group is fronted by Benson Ramsey (guitar/vocals) as well as David Huckfelt (guitar/vocals).  The band formed back in 2004 and “Dark So Gold” is the fourth album for them.  The album has already been highlighted in “PopMatters” and on CMT.com as one of the leading Americana albums of the year and the album was released at the end of January of 2012.
It’s fair to say that this buzz is well deserved. This album is simply gorgeous, catchy and at times soul wrenching all at once.  Similar to Teague Alexy’s album that I reviewed last week, “Dark So Gold” takes on an old-timey feel that is mixed with modern effects and recording techniques.  
The first track “Cry, Cry, Crow” immediately displays this mixture of Americana and more modern influences. The smooth and eerie feel of the guitar and key parts cradle the gentle and sincere vocals of Benson Ramsey.  David Huckfelt’s lower voice harmonizes the somber chorus “Cry, cry, crow.” Many of the songs on this album carry a melancholy feel, but a purposeful intent for a depressing album isn’t what’s going on here, the songs are indeed beautiful and honest.  It’s held down by solid lyrics and well done work on the instruments.
“If by Morning” is also a laid back track that lies on a base of the light and pretty guitar work with even lighter and airy keys in the background. “My bell tower’s ringing but isn’t you singing, we don’t know that song anymore and winter bones breaking if it ain’t shook it’s shaking, this tangle of fate out my back door,” sings Ramsey in this soft and sorrowful winter song.  The song feels hopeful in it’s chorus, “so leave a lantern on the trail, I’m not asking for much just your meadowsweet touch. If by morning you’re ready to sail, don’t wait for so long cause you know that I’m gone.”
The album continues on it’s low key and kind of sad feel with the track “All the While,” which has haunting keys underlying it.  It almost sounds like a pedal-steel guitar, but with a good load of beautiful effects. A finger picked guitar part holds down the soft and slightly mournful vocals of Ramsey who is backed up on vocals by Huckfelt.  “With a broken watch around my wrist, I check the time and shake my fist. As we walk along the graveyard fence. If time ain’t real and time don’t exist, then why? All the while,” sings Ramsey.  
The song “Moonrise, IA” is just a simple finger picked instrumental song that has flowing layers of keys under it. It’s the shortest track at just under 2 minutes.  Sometimes it seems like throwing in an instrumental is a cop out, but this short track seems to fit in well with the overall feel of this album.  The feel is one of beauty and sadness.
I’d like to say that this album isn’t emo, but with songs like “Rise Up and be Lonely,” the genre comes to mind.  I’ve always felt that there is a fine line between country and punk, the difference usually is determined by how heavy the guitars are, the tempo and what instruments are used.  The song continues on this album’s feel of a somber and light Americana album but with a chorus of “rise up and be lonely,” it seems pretty cut and dry that this isn’t the happiest album ever put out.  There’s really nothing wrong with that, listening to LMAFO and Pink makes me want to die more than this any day.
There are a lot of great lyrics on this album, but “Be There Bells” is just really cutting and beautiful in every way.
“Late at night, watching the satellites, North Carolina and the rolling hills. Orion, draws back the arrow, Aiming at the heart of a scarecrow.
Cloud to cloud, hour to hour. Dust to dust, flower to flower. I close my eyes, so I might dream. Won’t you meet me, When the Sun stands still? And I will, be there in bells,” sings Ramsey.   
The group throws in yet another instrumental track with “Grace Hill,” which has a somewhat cheerful plucked banjo part played by Michael Rossetto and very light keys played by both Alex and Benson Ramsey.
Out of nowhere comes the track “Chimes,” which is perhaps the most upbeat feeling track on the album.  The lyrics are still kind of depressing, so this album stays pretty consistent like that.
Likewise the song “Dead Feathers” carries a little more of a sway to it. It of course is fueled by an air of poetic melodrama. “So much beauty and kindness, In the world it makes me cry. I beg of you, your Highness, Please show mercy on the tender ones, In the low and lonesome glow,” sings Ramsey.  The vocal harmonies between Ramsey and Huckfelt in this song are mesmerizing and acts like Simon and Garfunkel come to mind upon listening to it.
I’d probably burn most any group for actually putting three instrumental songs on an album (that wasn’t completely instrumental already). But the instrumental songs on this album just fit and add to it. “Losing the Stars” has a simple yet beautiful piano part that ends off this gorgeous yet inherently sad album.
If you like acts like Murder of Crows or Three Song Sunday from around the area and don’t mind taking in a lesson in beauty that feels kind of like a downer at the same time, make it out to The Pines on Saturday, May 19 at Sacred Heart.  Singer/Songwriter/Producer, Erik Koskinen will be sharing the stage at the show.  The show will be $10 in advance or $15 at the door, the show will start at 7:30 p.m. and it sure to be a powerful experience.

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