The Burnt Pines- Don’t Look Down review

The Burnt Pines Don’t Look Down

 “Sex and lies make it snow,
A burning house behind us…”

I’m not exactly sure how those words from “Angels and Violence” work together poetically, but a rather stark image is created within my little mind, one that stuck with me during my (many) visits to The Burnt Pines recent album, Don’t Look Down.

It is nigh-on impossible for me to completely enjoy a folk-roots pop album. Whether we have The Weather Station, Landreth Bros., or Andy Shauf coming through a favourite radio station or any of a thousand other singer-songwriters straddling two or three musical worlds, I too frequently lose interest rather quickly, left wanting. It is too glossly, too generic, not lyrically compelling, too breathy…there is always something that leaves me dissatisfied. (Which is not to criticize those specific artists unjustly- I know there are many who dig that type of music; I’m just not among that number.)

But not when The Burnt Pines release a new recording.

This American-Danish-Portuguese trio first captured musical magic on their 2021 debut recording, The Burnt Pines. Utilizing layered vocals and multi-tracked instrumental explorations, they create music that ‘should’ be too smooth for me. But it isn’t—far from it. I love what they have created.

Like an unplugged Crowed House (although they include electric guitars and such in their mix) The Burnt Pines—primarily here by Kris Skovmand—write clever (not smart-assed, mind) songs for full-fledged adults. The majority of these numbers were written by Skovmand while his marriage was dissolving. Not entirely obviously, excellent songs such as the piano and horn-fueled, Monkeesque “The Ghost Living in My Beer” (one can be forgiven, I hope, for initially being held captive by the ghost living in his beard, an entirely different song still being written…somewhere,) “What Did You Come Back For?” and “Don’t Look Down” document various phases of romantic and marital dissolution.

Skovmand sings the songs with a bright Art Garfunkel sincerity, assured certainly but with a hint that a complete breakdown could occur without notice. “Welcome Home!”, “Angels and Violence,” and “Daytime TV” are darker, although their heaviness remains couched within the glow of the group’s musical brightness.

Aaron Flanders contributes two songs, “Pushing On” and “In From the Outside,” a song that views the future of America from the Trump election.

Each of the trio is a multi-instrumentalist. Lisbon’s Miguel Sá Pessoa contributes piano and other keys while American Flanders is featured on acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, harmonica, and tambourine. In addition to singing, Skormand offers harmonica and acoustic guitar.

Augmenting the group are several guests, including ones featured on the previous album including Fernando Huergo (basses) and Luis Barros (drums and percussion). Joe Cunningham’s tenor sax adds an appealing flavour to the previously mentioned “The Ghost in My Beer.”

Across eleven tracks, The Burnt Pines create a musical symmetry that captures the best of folk-roots music—emotional honesty, vocal and instrumental clarity, tonal intimacy—alongside the best of pop music—hooks, catchy rhythms and grooves that don’t quit.

And then…and then…they add on the most unexpected and simultaneously most desired rendition of Jethro Tull’s “Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day” and The Burnt Pines propel themselves firmly into my first-quarter 2023 Top Ten. Who would have thought to go in this direction…

“And as you cross the wilderness,
Spinning in your emptiness, if you have to,

While the original was targeted toward global climate change, within the context of Don’t Look Down,  a different, interpersonal interpretation is apparent.

The Burnt Pines.

Follow them—they know the way.

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