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Happy Hosting, Happy New Year - Rob Ellen
A six-piece bluegrass band from Austin, The Lost Pines acquired the services of the great Lloyd Maines to produce this, their second album; the result is a fourteen song collection that is fast and precise as bluegrass should be, yet simultaneously warm and laid-back. There seem to be so many ways to try and take bluegrass forward and, for me, these guys take the best and truest approach.
There is not one cover amongst these fourteen songs, no traditional material at all, and yet the lineup and the sound they make is (almost) utterly traditional. Original members Talia Bryce and Christian Ward split the songwriting and the lead vocals straight down the middle, their songs alternating all the way through the album. The breadth that comes from having the male and female perspectives serves them well, but it's the strength of their songs that has really won me over. They write about the world they live in with warm honesty; sure, it's a world that is mostly homely and gentle - no drug dealers or drive-by shootings - but it's very real for all that. What they're not doing with these songs is faking some imagined past which would fossilise the genre. They are absolutely at ease in their musical clothes, playing with a real snap when the tune demands and a gentle sweetness in the more contemplative numbers - a sweetness that never cloys at all.
All the familiar features of bluegrass are here: fast-fingered mandolin, dancing fiddle and guitar picking of a high order; mention is made in other places of them being a distinctively Texan bluegrass band and I wouldn't be too sure of how to pick up on that. What I do hear, though, is a little swing creeping into the style here and there, especially in Christian Ward's singing and sometimes in the fiddle playing, too. Right across the band there is an un-showy excellence in everything they do, exemplified by Talia Bryce's singing; without ever seeming stretched she sings with precision (every word is clear), and also with character. Of the many lovely songs here, at the moment I'm particularly taken with Talia's song, Katherine, which is addressed to the girl who dances "like a willow on the wind" and is the centre of attention at parties. "Teach me how to dance, Katherine", she sings, as the band motor along like everyone's up and dancing as fast as could be.
I'm struggling to pin down exactly why this album resonates so happily with me, but I reckon I appreciate the line they tread, inviting you into a world that is comfortable and familiar without seducing you with fake charms. As for Lloyd Maines, a long time musical hero of mine, it's an admirably unfussy production job he's done, and great to hear a little dobro-playing from him along the way.
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