Sparrows in the Bell
Red House Records (RHR CD 201)Grade: ****
Quiet, serene, romantic, mysterious ? The Pines are all these things and more on Sparrows in the Bell, a haunted rendering of folk, blues and country traditions from the Minneapolis duo of David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey.
Barely bound by earthly constraints, and straddling that fence that separates the living from the dead, Sparrows in the Bell is dark and rural, an abandoned farmhouse of songs that drift from room to room like ghosts.
Flecks of banjo play off brushed drums, glowing electric guitar and gentle acoustic finger-picking in the mesmerizing opener "Horse And Buggy," and in the noir-ish "Don't Let Me Go," menace is found in Benson's whiskey-soaked vocals, lush acoustic instrumentation, eerie keyboards and lyrics like "If true love lasts forever, then I guess it doesn't matter if we die."
Death hangs over Sparrows in the Bell like a funeral shroud, but there is a forlorn beauty and timelessness to tracks like "Throw Me In The River," a crumbling piano elegy to lovers intent on following through on a suicide pact, and the Dylan-esque, bluesy cover of "Careless Love."
Not everything is recorded under the cloak of night on Sparrows in the Bell. The soft, train-like propulsion of the rhythms of "Without A Kiss" are rolling and lively, if muted by The Pines' insistence on hushed sonics.
Richly textured and detailed songcraft, similar to that of the Willard Grant Conspiracy, rustles through The Pines' alluring melodies. Swimming in slow-moving currents of instrumentation and intertwining guitar figures, Sparrows in the Bell might just make Minnesotans forget there ever was such a thing as the Jayhawks.