The Burnt Pines – Don’t Look Down (Adraela Records)
The pressure to deliver a second release as impactful as the first surely looms large for any artist. Not only did The Burnt Pines’ self-titled debut land them critical success, it also became a textbook case of beating the odds in the face of adversity, given the severe restrictions of pandemic times. Musically, it has had much more to do with creating something wholly unique – combing the musical styles of the past with a forward-thinking approach to the future, creating a category unto themselves.
Despite this being new music, one can’t help but harken back to simpler times and the folky harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel, the Everly Brothers and even Fleet Foxes. Like Simon, all three songwriters have created a band who have taken the truthfulness of folk music and grafted it to the hooks of pop music. The Burnt Pines are surely not the first ¬– but to hear this music provides the listener with a feel-good sense that life is good and positivity rules.
The Burnt Pines is – at its core – a trio: Kris Skovmand (lead vocals/ guitar/ harmonica), Aaron Flanders (guitar/banjo/harmonica) and Miguel Sá Pessoa (keyboards/arrangements). Don’t Look Down adds Fernando Huergo (5-string electric bass), Luis Barros (drums/percussion), and on one track apiece, Dan Fox (double bass), Eric Leigh and Mariana Lebre Torres (background vocals) and Joe Cunningham (tenor sax).
“Bring Out Your Book” sets the pace. A simple, strummed acoustic guitar, gentle percussion and Flander’s harmonica introduce you to Skovmand’s softly-beautiful voice, with Leigh offering backup vocals. Focused on the lyrics depicting the pain and desolate state brought on by divorce, the song’s sturdy chorus, added B3 and perky guitar accompaniment keep it from full-blown desperation. The title track – reveals a more propulsive beat as Flanders’ guitar, Sá Pessoa’s upbeat piano and Barros’ vigorous percussion never overpower Skovmand’s urgent, yet somehow breathy, vocals. Acoustic guitar, tight drums and the warmth of Heurgo’s dancing bass lift “Pushing On” into a showcase for what the band does best: creating beefy earworms which don’t quit, with Skovmand’s vocal hitting high gear as the added embellishments of B3 and banjo lift the song ever-upward. Truly a keeper song for rekindling the flame of life at a down moment. Song order is everything and “What Did You Come Back For?” slows things down, underlining the powerful effect of tasteful accompaniment with a hint of jazz – acoustic and electric guitar, deftly-played piano and Fox’s sultry double bass. A vocal highlight for Skovmand, gilded in sweet harmonies, this is another showpiece. The delicate beauty of “Angels and Violence” with its soft guitar and strings backing gives way to beautiful harmonies as it ramps up – with the help of piano and drums – to become another ear-lock, Skovmand weaving a definite spell throughout. The song’s back end transitions into something otherworldly as Huergo exercises his inner Pastorius against a soft wall of honeyed harmonies and Sá Pessoa’s complementary piano.
The tender “In From the Outside” is delivered on tenderly-picked acoustic guitar and whisper-quiet vocals from Skovmand as piano, bass and drums flesh out the melody, adding voices, conservative horns and cymbal washes as the composition ebbs and flows. Despite the sadness and near-crying vocal from Skovmand, heartbreak has found a healing home. Another guitar intro sets up Skovmand’s hushed vocal on “Your Magic Is To Blame” as the song opens up like a spring flower, adding harmonies, piano and keyboard effects along the way. Clearly, the band has mastered the art of removing the bitter from bittersweet. The lively, single-oriented “The Ghost Living In My Beer” features a distinctive trumpet sound behind its driving acoustic guitar and hand percussion as the lead vocal builds with band support. Its chorus erupts into a happy place with an almost sing-along quality, changing tempos as guest Cunningham adds a jazzy flourish on tenor sax. Huergo and Barros up their game in response, creating a song delivering absolute swing while harmonica enters the room, offering a salve to the impending hangover. The feel-good stance of “Welcome Home!” turns alien abduction into a beautiful thing, its pulsing beat and simpatico harmonies (band and Torres) rendering yet another distinctive composition while creating an entirely hummable melody which raises the bar on The Burnt Pines’ work-to-date.
An unlikely theme, perhaps, but “Daytime TV” is nonetheless a soft-spoken euphony for the ages – lush harmonies and the typically tasteful support of piano, drums, bass and acoustic guitar. “Bad Love” erupts with a comparatively rock-ish attitude, with aggressive accompaniment from all players, propelled by Luis Barros’ drum attack. The lone cover, Jethro Tull’s “Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day), is a masterful reproduction, adding space and time where there was none.
The writing is superb as this trio – with connections to Spain, Portugal, America and Denmark – tackles universal world issues: drinking, relationships, reality, redemption and, of course, ghosts and alien abduction. The music is beyond buoyant and each composition is, like any sophisticated work of art, composed of many tiny brush strokes to create the desired effect. As individuals, each band member contributes significantly but, as a band, there’s something very special about the chemistry between these players – creating something larger in the bargain.
The Burnt Pines’ choice of album title may have implied that there might be some danger in looking down but, 41 minutes later, they’ve proven that – by example – it’s entirely safe to do so.
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Video Premiere: The Burnt Pines “Bring Out Your Book”