Woody Pines,
Rabbits Motel
(independent, 2013)

Hearing somebody for the first time, especially if he or she has recorded before, can be the equivalent of arriving late to an ongoing conversation. The promotional material accompanying Rabbits Motel reports that Woody Pines -- who lives currently in Nashville though he's dustily traveled in the way of an old-fashioned troubadour -- has brought "a much harder edge to his music" this time, as opposed to the three other times on albums I missed.

All I can attest is that Woody Pines -- that can't be his real name, can it? -- has the wit to join up on the present recording with a small band possessing an instrumental lineup ordinarily associated with rockabilly practitioners. Full-blown rockabilly, though, erupts only twice, on "Who Told Ya" and "Addicted to Blood," the latter concerning the not unduly alarming travails of a vampire. Ten cuts and a half hour comprise the totality of Rabbits Motel (which comes, incidentally, with a charming cover drawing of ramblin' jack rabbits). Pines himself plays a variety of guitars and drums. At least in my hearing, nothing is "much harder." To the contrary, "understated" comes to mind.

Two cuts -- the traditional "Train That Carried My Gal from Town" (which borrows from Doc Watson's arrangement) and Lead Belly's "Keep Your Hands Off Her" (turned into a jug-band tune owing little to the original) -- are covers of decades-old material. They testify to Pines's immersion in real American folk music, not the effusions of other singer-songwriters. The laconic original ballad "Hobo & His Bride" drops in sly allusions to "Wreck of the Ol' 97," "Long Journey Home" and, unexpectedly, the Civil War-era "Two Soldiers." "I Love the Way My Baby" is barely rewritten from an old Muddy Waters number. (Relax; Dylan's done the same.) Felix Hatfield's enchanting "Railroad Vine" -- not, as one might anticipate, "Railroad Line" -- feels less like a hobo song than a revery on the idea of a hobo song. Not quite like anything I've heard before, and quite lovely.

Woody Pines manages to pull the listener in with a sound both familiar and idiosyncratic. His is a perfectly pitched 21st-century folk music, steeped at once in past and present. It's a whole lot more ambitious than the always sure-footed Pines makes it seem. I just wish that Rabbits Motel were more than 30 minutes of it.

music review by
Jerome Clark

18 May 2013

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