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The Burnt Pines: The Burnt Pines
by George Graham
(Adraela Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/10/2021)
Folk-rock and pop groups with vocal harmonies were big back a half century ago, with Simon & Garfunkel; Peter, Paul & Mary; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Brewer & Shipley and many others. The ongoing retro movement has brought back the musical format with groups like the Fleet Foxes, Darlingside, and the Wailin’ Jennys. This week we have the debut of a folk pop band with a few interesting twists. They call themselves the Burt Pines, and their new release is also called The Burnt Pines.
While music like this has long been considered very American with a few notable groups from Britain, the Burnt Pines is very much an international band. They formed when the three principal members happened to be in Lisbon, Portugal in 2018, and began working together. They are Boston area guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Flanders, Danish born lead vocalist and lyricist Kris Skovmand, and Portuguese keyboard player Miguel Se Pessoa. Though they separated physically, they continued to collaborate, with the 3200 miles between Lisbon and Boston giving new meaning to social distancing. But the now-ubiquitous technology of exchanging multitrack files made it all possible, and the group reports they have felt quite productive working that way, and creating the twelve songs that this album comprises, and adding that by now they have a good start on a second album.
Another interesting aspect of this recording is that through the music is strong on vocal harmonies, almost all the vocals are by Skovmand, overdubbing himself. Instrumentally and compositionally, the album is very appealing, with prominent acoustic guitars, attractive melodic lines, tasteful use of percussion and subtle added instrumentation, from Luis Barrios on drums, and acoustic bass player Dan Fox.
Lyrically, though, the album is a bit of a mess at times. Skovland, as a Dane, was probably not a native English speaker. So while there are moments when the lyrics rise to the level of the musical setting, much of the time it sounds like a litany of seemingly profound poetic phrases strung together haphazardly. There are some love songs to be sure, but if you pay much attention to the what the many of lyrics are saying, you’ll probably be perplexed, or perhaps amused at the non-sequiturs. But fortunately, you don’t have to do that with the thoroughly pleasing sound of musical setting, and Skovmand’s attractive vocals.
Opening is a piece that epitomizes the sound of the Burnt Pines. Diamonds combines the warm, attractive folky musical setting with the group’s quirky lyrics. <<>>
Guitarist Aaron Flanders plays a little banjo on the following track Heavy and Young, giving it another measure of folkiness. <<>>
More contemplative in sound is a track called Song for Rose. One of the more straight-out love songs on the album. <<>>
Another very tuneful track from the Burnt Pines is On the Burning Bridge which has some of the album’s best lyrics, about a fading love affair. <<>>
Taking a different mood musically, but still quite appealing is Oh Me, Oh My. The group’s enigmatic lyrics, evoking dream scenes, work well on this piece. <<>>
Another very pretty song is called From Seville to Manhattan, and it’s a kind of geographical litany of places on the map. <<>>
Showing a bit more 1960s folk-rock influence is Waiting for You with the band turning up the energy level some. <<>>
The album concludes April Child another thoroughly attractive tune with lyrics that seem like poetic phrases strung together at random, but with the such a pleasing sound, it doesn’t matter. <<>>
The Burnt Pines the new debut album by the international group of the same name, with members from Denmark, Portugal and the US, is a very enjoyable recording, marked by inviting, hummable songs, tasteful, largely acoustic instrumentation, and excellent vocal harmonies mostly performed by lead vocalist Kris Skovmand by means of overdubbing. In terms of lyrics, Skovmand is no Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell, but like some other groups of this ilk, the words are basically something to carry the tune, rather than intended to say something, so you can just let yourself get caught up in the ear candy the group delivers.
Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. Kudos to the group for recording all the parts while separated by an ocean, in Boston and Lisbon. The overdubbed vocal harmonies are nicely done. But the mix could have had a bit more clarity and dynamic range.
Folk influenced rock and pop continue their revival among a new generation of musicians. This distinctive intercontinental group adds its own touch, and the result makes for pleasurable listening.
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