Jake Swamp and The Pine recorded a socially distanced EP outdoors to keep up the momentum of creating their stripped-down, heartfelt acoustic music.
Americana-folk duo Drew Zieff (vocals, guitar) and Stuart Babcock (mandolin, harmonies) take their name from the tallest tree in their home state of Massachusetts, which was named in honour of Mohawk spiritual leader, Chief Jake Swamp. Swamp planted trees all over the world as part of his Tree of Peace Society initiative. With only guitar, mandolin, and vocals, and foot-stomping as the only percussion, Zieff and Babcock’s sound is bare-bones and straightforward while managing to also be evocative and lush.
The duo began when Zieff put an ad on Craigslist in April 2018 looking for a musical collaborator, surely one of the most fortuitous meetings to ever occur through Craigslist. Hopefully Zieff didn’t receive too many unseemly responses before Babcock contacted him. Since then the “Two dudes/one beard/14 strings” have kept up a remarkable pace of recording and performing, earning them award nominations at the Boston Music Awards.
Jake Swamp and The Pine’s hometown is Somerville, which has a vibrant folk community in its own right, which is remarkable considering its nearness to Boston. The songs on this EP are inspired by nature, especially the breathtaking northern stretch of the Appalachian Mountains and the 60% of the state that is covered by forests. They “aim to blend traditional Americana/folk with a modern-day jam band twist, creating thoughtful songs that you can listen to while driving on 93 north through the White Mountains in NH…heading to your campsite to escape the busy and bustling city…. or that you can dance to while seeing them live.”
After the duo’s debut album was delayed by the pandemic, they decided to record new material live outdoors, right outside Josh Gold’s Basement Studio. Friend and colleague Don Mitchell from Darlingside helped to flesh out the songs further with banjo and harmonium. The result is potent, with Zieff’s powerful voice conjuring feelings of loneliness as well as healing among mountains, trees, water, and fresh air.
On the bittersweet ‘Hard to Spot a Fish’ fishing is a metaphor for life’s struggles, searching for love, and stepping back from a situation to see the big picture: “I learned that it’s hard to spot a fish when you’re standing too close to shore.” Their hypnotic, yearning reinterpretation of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’ is an unexpected twist that works surprisingly well as a folk song, bravely out-Americana-ing Springsteen. Their choice of cover songs on social media and at their live shows is eclectic and vastly entertaining, such as Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ from ‘Mulan.’ ‘Uncanny Home’, featuring Don Mitchell’s harmonium, sounds like an old Celtic sailor’s folk song. “With the wind in your voice and a roar in your head / we can still make the uncanny home.”
‘Outside the Studio’ will whet listeners’ appetite for Jake Swamp and The Pine’s live shows, as well as their first full album, which will hopefully be available soon.