In order to write and perform music featuring Appalachian subjects, one does not have to have a rural heritage, as proven by the members of Massachusetts-based band Three Tall Pines. Their latest release, All That’s Left, relies heavily on images of farming and the old homeplace, subjects that fans of bluegrass music might identify with the southern mountains – not the urban northeast. However, the sparse arrangements and mournful vocals of lead singers and songwriters Dan Bourdeau and Joe Lurgio make these themes seem right at home in Boston.
It is a rare occasion that a relatively new group within the spectrum of bluegrass is able to release a recording of all original material. However, the members of Three Tall Pines (Bourdeau – guitar; Lurgio – mandolin; Conor Smith – fiddle; and Gian Pangaro – bass and dobro) have done just that with All That’s Left, recorded at Hi n Dry Studies in Somerville, Massachusetts. With their last album, Short While Ago, the band received both regional and national recognition, being named #1 in bluegrass by Ourstage.com in July 2008, as well as finalists in NPR’s Mountain Stage Newsong Contest. Accompanied by a host of guest musicians and even a chorus of “Weary Travelers” accompanying the closing track and song of the same name, Three Tall Pines is set to achieve even more with this new album.
The members of Three Tall Pines and their guests play standard musical instruments associated with the bluegrass genre, but their musical style is far from traditional bluegrass, and instead fits well within the Americana and folk music realm. To label them as bluegrass would be imprecise, as they lack a banjo within the regular lineup. To pinpoint a place of origin for the band’s influences is somewhat difficult, as they list artists such as Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Dylan as inspiration, yet sound more akin to Justin Townes Earle. In order to show the wide array of styles these musicians draw from, you can look no further than their bass player, Gian Pangaro, who not only has experience in bluegrass bands but also in a San Francisco-based Latin dance band.
Two of the album’s standout tracks are its instrumentals, Rosebud and Metamorphosis. The latter features classical influences, including an interesting bowed bass solo. Broken Panes, the story of a man revisiting his childhood home, is an excellent piece with vivid images of “rusty nails and boards, dusty hardwood floors… all that’s left of this home place.” The sharp images in Blue Pontiac’s tale of a cheating husband and a wife who simply sits at “home in her old nightgown” also create a particularly striking song. Other pieces on this record range from historic numbers like the Dust Bowl-themed Black Sunday Blues to Tie One On, a celebration of partying on a Saturday night.
While this album may not appeal to fans of Flatt and Scruggs, it is a great example of modern Americana.
For more information on this new quartet, visit www.threetallpines.com.