Benson Ramsey and David Huckfelt, the songwriting duo that performs and records as the Pines, write atmospheric acoustic music that is low-key yet intense. The lightly strummed acoustic guitars and the brushes on the drums cant hide the strong current of emotion that runs through the ten songs on the duos second disc, Sparrows in the Bell. The CD's outer cover contains black-and-white photos of the singers that look like 19th-century daguerreotypes, and the music on the disc evokes a feeling of the distant past, in the same way Dylans recent discs or Springsteens acoustic records do.
Benson Ramseys father, Bo, co-produced Sparrows in the Bell with the Pines, and he plays guitar on four tracks. Bo has played on and produced records by Greg Brown, Iris Dement, and Lucinda Williams, and his playing on Sparrows in the Bell has a brooding, dark tone. The recording feels full but not crowded, and its the subtle details, such as the interplay between the acoustic guitar and piano (played by Bensons brother, Alex) on "Throw Me in the River" that grab you.
Huckfelt and Ramsey both sing in slightly hushed tones, but it is easy to tell them apart -- Huckfelts voice is slightly harder-edged. Their lyrics are often sad, but not despairing. "Throw Me in the River" is compact and powerful, like a well-crafted short story. In the photo I mentioned above, Ramsey and Huckfelt appear to be fading into the wall behind them, like apparitions. What is really fading, it sometimes seems, is honest, heartfelt music like this.
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