Friday, August 19, 2011

The Pines; August 19, 2010; Café Carpe, Fort Atkinson

I say it every single time, but I wish I got to the Carpe more, since the Fort Atkinson institution may be the most charming place on earth. Comfortable café up front, music room in the back, all seemingly unchanged in the last several decades. A more recent addition is a back porch which overlooks the Rock River that flows through the center of town.

I first heard of the Pines when their friend Ben Weaver told me about the band, saying they would be perfect for the basement. But Carpe co-owner Bill Camplin has known them much longer than that, and they have been playing there for years. Just as he knew they would, the Pines have seen their attendance increase for recent shows. It’s no wonder, a well reviewed record produced by Bo Ramsey (Greg Brown’s producer, sideman and friend) and an impressive appearance on Andy Moore’s Wisconsin public television show the 30 Minute Music Hour will do that. I’m probably not the first to say that the Carpe is the perfect venue for them. An always respectful listening room, it also has a stellar sound system. The tables and mismatched chairs seem to be in a different position every time I am there. Tonight our chair choices were either too close or too far away (well, for me at least, since you couldn’t possibly be too far away in that room). We chose the row of theater chairs too close and didn’t regret it.

My previous encounters with the Pines have been as a duo or a trio with terrific drummer JT Bates. Tonight there was a new face on stage, keyboardist Alex Ramsey, yep, son of Bo, but also brother of one of the Pines two frontmen Benson Ramsey. Alex added another dimension to their music, his angular notes sometimes battling the spare guitar sounds before embracing them. They started the set with David Huckfelt’s haunting “Pray Tell,” a series of questions (“Who hung the moon so low in the sky”) with no answers, and followed it with Benson’s “Heart and Bones,” his distinctive Dylan-ish voice holding the whole room in thrall. They traded songs like that for the entire night, old favorites from Tremolo mixing with new songs slated for a record early next year. The new material is promising, certain to land them a spot on my year end list. Their guitar playing is completely in tune with one another, Benson adding subtle slide to David’s songs and David adding beautiful acoustic strums to Benson’s. The few times they sing together it sounds so lovely I wish they would do it more. But that’s my only complaint about a band that gets better every time I see them.

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