As long as there has been bluegrass music, musicians have been reinventing older songs. With their latest release, Taproot, Massachusetts-based quartet Three Tall Pines offers their takes on instantly-recognizable classics made famous by Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, and other bluegrass and pre-bluegrass groups. Though the album could really be considered an EP, with only six songs, it’s still chock full of Americana-grass that the band’s fans should certainly enjoy.
There are two Monroe songs here – a couple of his more lonesome numbers, although the Three Tall Pines arrangements aren’t quite as mournful as Monroe’s were. With Body and Soul opens up the album with an eerie triple fiddle intro (courtesy of band member Conor Smith and guests Brittany Haas and Lauren Rioux) that sets the song’s tone well. Imagine if Steve Earle went bluegrass, and you’d have the version here. Walls of Time has much of the same feel – dark and earthy. Guitarist Dan Bourdeau’s lead vocals are gritty and raw, and the other band members add nice harmonies on the chorus.
The Stanley Brothers are represented by Angel Band, which sticks quite close to the original version, with stripped down instrumentation. The album’s other Gospel track, Crying Holy, is perhaps the grassiest here. It’s upbeat, with fine fiddling from Smith and solid bass work from Nick DiSebastian. Many recent versions of this traditional song have been played at breakneck speed, and this is just a bit slower.
>Rounding out the album are a driving version of the traditional old time number Raleigh and Spencer, helped along by the banjo playing of guest Ron Cody (who also produced the album), and one original, Stonewalls, a well-written lament about the changes in a rural community. This song has a slightly different feel than the rest of the album, with more of a weary alt-country vibe. Although it was written by Bourdeau, it sounds like it might have come from the pen of noted country/Americana singer-songwriter Chris Knight.
Three Tall Pines isn’t a band that sticks to the high lonesome sound, but their versions of these old songs are still well-done. Bourdeau (guitar), Smith (fiddle), DiSebastian (bass and guitar), and Joe Lurgio (mandolin) have put together a short but satisfying collection that gives a nod to both the past and the edges of bluegrass.
For more information on Three Tall Pines, visit their website at www.threetallpines.com. Their new album can be purchased from several online retailers.