Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Wine Tasting with Sellaband's Lone Pine

It takes 87 steps to get from my front door to the entrance of California Wine And Cheese. The "Wine tasting joint" as I call it is the campus where my nose and palate are currently taking classes in how to tell the difference between my ass and a hole in the ground. Until my matriculation and initiation, I had always tasted wine "by ear" but I am slowly learning to appreciate the hints of berries, chocolate and leather in the nose of certain bottles. I've even learned to spell "tannins" and think I know how they taste.

Fortunately, I don't use my nose and palate when I listen to music. I may have a tin ear when it comes to fine wine, but the finer nuances of well-crafted vintage rock music are very familiar to my senses. Tonight I logged on to the Sellaband web site and pulled the cork on a bottle of fine vintage wine bearing the label "Lone Pine" and handcrafted in Cardiff, Wales.

The music of these Sellaband newcomers is simple and easy to digest on first listen. But as I swirl the glass and let the fumes rise into my nostrils, a well seasoned complexity becomes evident. The song "Money and Faith" is a prime example of how simple ingredients can be combined to render unexpected results.

From the first note, the unmistakable glassy crunch of a Fender Telecaster sets the table. A compelling rhythm track is like the shiny watch waved by a hypnotist. Lone Pine takes a no nonsense approach in using their instruments to draw the listener into the meaning of their lyrics. This is a stroke of brilliant simplicity that eludes so many young artists.

The sonic palate of Lone Pine shows maturity and great attention to detail. These boys have done their homework. The pedigree of electric guitar is presented with a transparency that makes me want to hear more. There is a sonic thread beginning with Hank Marvin and passing through the hands of Buddy Holly, Roy Buchanan, Robbie Robertson, Mark Knopfler, Keith Richards and Chrissy Hind which Lone Pine has grabbed with both hands and woven into a soundscape that offers the listener no alternative but to pay attention.

As with the guitars, the bass and drums are nostalgic in timbre yet fresh in spirit. Lone Pine has tapped into the past to produce refreshing instrumental tracks that allow the song to be the star of the show. There are hints of early John Cougar, and The Pretenders in the jagged edges of the tracks, while some of the more sensitively played sections touch on the brilliant ensemble playing of The Band.

A few years ago, while managing Shangri La Studio (incidentally, the last home of The Band) I had the pleasure of acting as second engineer for John Hanlon as he produced the "Songs" album for Belgian rocker Admiral Freebie. John has a long time association with Neil Young and it was no surprise that, as he and the Admiral joined forces in that historic studio, both Neil Young and The Band made their presence felt. I don't know how Lone Pine tapped into this energy field, but the vocal sound, and delivery calls to mind Admiral Freebie's reckless abandon, combined with the innocence of early Neil Young and the depth of Levon Helm at the top of his game.

These are the images that Lone Pine evokes. But this is a young band and these comparisons represent potential, not accomplishment...yet. Consistent songwriting and relentless development will decide if Lone Pine will enjoy lasting success. From what they offer on their Sellaband profile, they are well on their way. Their music is a versatile brew. You can down it by the bottle...or you can swirl the glass, appreciate the nose, and then sip it slowly to enjoy every nuance.

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