REVIEW: The Burnt Pines Album is Strong Debut with Gentle Guitar


The Burnt Pines: The Burnt Pines (Adraela Records)

The initial track of this strong debut opens with delicately-picked acoustic guitar, adding soft harmonies for an effect not unlike that of gently falling snow. Mix in rudimentary percussion, piano, melodica and the distinctive lead vocals of Danish-born Kris Skovmand. Together, the band gradually swells “Diamonds” – a key track to understanding their sound – into a full-scale, hummable, best foot forward. The comparably up-tempo “Heavy and Young” strums a little harder, introducing banjo and snare drum as Skovmand’s voice becomes a fast friend, while added layers of vocals build a bullet-proof chorus which helps propel this song into a percussive, hand-clapping force of nature.

“Song For Rose” is simply voice and guitar, again adding percussion, electric guitar, supplemental vocals and a rhythmic, electronic device that lends a slightly otherworldly sound. Rose must be pleased. Creating a time-warp of sound, falling somewhere between Simon & Garfunkel’s choirboy harmonies and Darlingside’s multi-level aural ballet, Skovmand’s vocal tracking on “On The Burning Bridge” blends beautifully with piano, double-drive acoustic guitars and Luis Barros’ tight snare work. If Skovmand’s distinctive vocals are key to the band’s sound, no less so than the guitar contributions of Aaron Flanders. “Only In The Soul” proves a case-in-point, while Miguel Sá Pessoa’s spare piano contributes powerfully – each spare note begging more.

“Mother On The Mountain” gets off to a rocky start with its uncanny resemblance to “The Little Drummer Boy” – which it just can’t shake, while “Oh Me, Oh My” adds zest to the band’s repertoire, a full-instrument composition with actual gusto, an infectious chorus and hooks aplenty. “From Seville To Manhattan” features Flanders’ guitar as Skovmand’s voice floats, dream-like, over the melody, adding subtle flourishes as Fernando Huego’s 5-string bass, Sá Pessoa’s melodica and the gentle application of banjo builds a foundation beneath him.

“Outside Of Us” begins slowly, adding depth as bass (featuring double bassist, Dan Fox), piano and percussion work to elevate Skovmand’s whisper-soft vocal into one of the disc’s finest tracks. Likewise, “Waiting For You” picks up the pace and steams ahead, fueled by the band’s happy-go-lucky approach to the outside world, as percussion, chorus, banjo and piano fires on all cylinders.

If you’re looking for something to listen to first, start with “Make The Sign.” The best representation of their overall sound, if not their collective personality, it’s the chorus that sticks like glue, as gentle guitar and otherworldly cymbal washes cast their spell. Closing with “April Child,” Flanders’ acoustic guitar meets Barros’ light percussive touch as Skovmand’s hypnotic vocals soothe, the song’s chorus lifting each lyric skyward.

Hard to believe that this seemingly disparate collection of talents came together from different parts of the world – Spain, Denmark, Portugal and the U.S. – spawned before the weighty restrictions of our, now, pandemic times. Each players’ parts, transmitted to a studio based in Lisbon, would form the nexus of each composition, finished and expertly massaged into place by Skovmand and Sá Pessoa. With backgrounds in folk-pop, jazz and classical music, the result is a delicately-textured pastiche of wistful lyrics wrapped in a gentle, musical accompaniment which borders on the ethereal. Reassuring to realize that, in such dark and frustrating times, such a hopeful bright light can be birthed from the very challenges of physical distance. The Burnt Pines is just what the doctor ordered.


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