Alternative bluegrass is everywhere lately, and one of the most recent additions to the subgenre is The Pine Hearts, a newly formed trio from Olympia, Washington. This group, which has been together for close to a year, offers listeners a catchy, peppy mixture of folk, indie, and jamgrass on its debut album, Distant Lights.
The album opens with Don’t Let the Stars Bring You Down, a positive tune which discusses nature and science, and suggests that we shouldn’t be bothered by things we can’t change and don’t understand. The song has a pleasant, cheerful sound with an interesting banjo solo in the middle. Paralyzed by Fate finds the singer lamenting the hesitancy he is encountering while trying to begin a relationship, with a chanted, toe-tapping chorus.
When It Comes to You offers another take on relationships. This familiar tale of someone who can’t let go of someone he knows is bad for him has a stripped-down arrangement. It’s also about as mournful as this album gets. Even Heartache or the Whiskey, which asks “Which is worse, being wrong or being alone?”, has a good-time feel, and it’s easy to imagine it as a crowd sing-along at a festival or bar.
Other tunes are more introspective, such as the subdued Alright Fine, which finds the narrator reflecting on a not-entirely-positive encounter during a relationship, and the more upbeat Somewhere Between, with its narration by a man who is working through difficulties in life. This tune is one of the album’s most enjoyable, and also has some of the grassiest banjo on the album. On Our Own also leans closer to the bluegrass side of things.
The songs on Distant Light are all originals (with the exception of the instrumental Big Sciota), which makes for an interesting listening experience. Though the songs all seem to capture certain emotions – heartbreak, frustration, apathy – the lyrics and the images they describe are somewhat ambiguous, perhaps drawing inspiration from the band’s punk and indie influences. Fans of those genres should feel at home here, while those who favor more traditional bluegrass might find the tunes unclear.
Both the vocals and arrangements here are reminiscent of Old Crow Medicine Show (though a little less old time), with some Trampled by Turtles thrown in for good measure. Fans of these edge-of-bluegrass bands and others like them should enjoy The Pine Hearts. Joe Capoccia (guitar and vocals), Lob Strilla (banjo and vocals), and Derek McSwain (mandolin and vocals) do folk-grass well.
For more information on The Pine Hearts, visit their website at thepinehearts.bandcamp.com. Their album can be purchased from several online music retailers.