Pacific North West bluegrass with echoes of punk and funk.
The term bluegrass was coined in 1965 for the genre of music created in the ‘40s by Bill Monroe whose backing band was called the Blue Grass Boys when it became popular for a second time as part of the folk revival and festivals for the music started to be organised. The ‘60s was also the time that bluegrass took root in the Pacific North West of America, an area that now has a vibrant local music scene and plays host to the Wintergrass Festival which is a major part of the bluegrass festival circuit. All of this is by way of introduction to Olympia, Washington State, based bluegrass band the Pine Hearts’ new album, ‘Lost Love Songs’. The Pine Hearts are a newgrass trio comprising guitarist and songwriter Joey Capoccia, Derek McSwain on mandolin, and Dean Shakked on bass, with vocals being shared by all band members.
The Pine Hearts first formed in 2013 and have been steadily building a reputation locally and on the bluegrass circuit ever since. They were finalists at Telluride and crowdfunded ‘Lost Love Songs’ which meant they could afford to work with outside producer Bart Budwig who helps bring a fuller sound to the record, which includes guest slots by Lob Strilla on banjo and piano, and Bev Foley on violin. The fact that Capoccia wrote all the songs brings a cohesiveness to the songs, though he did write some of them when he was at the South Pole working as a carpenter for the National Science Foundation. The songs take their subjects from traveling, campfire jams, and time with old friends which would appear to be a reasonable summary of Capoccia’s life experience. So far so similar to many bands on the bluegrass circuit, but the varied musical background of the band members is what helps bring their own character to ‘Lost Love Songs’. Capoccia may write bluegrass and americana songs but he is a punk at heart, and McSwain ensures the more traditional aspects of bluegrass are covered while the secret weapon is Shakked. The music here is music to dance to, and Shakked’s own history and liking for funk bass and time with a thrash metal band mean that the bass really drives the Pine Hearts music giving it a unique character.
Capoccia wrote ‘Wouldn’t You Know’ at the South Pole and it gives the album its title. Bart Budwig does not only help with the overall sound but adds trumpet to ‘Oceans And Limousines’ and electric guitar to ‘Don’t The Sunlight In Your Eyes‘ just in case anyone thought the band was getting too traditional. Capoccia has said that The Shook Twins harmonies were an inspiration for ‘Ocean In Tour Veins’ which while being about drowning also has a jam-ready segment for live performances. ‘Unit Of Time’ closes the album with a good dose of acapella singing showing the Pine Hearts are nothing if not adventurous.
The Pine Hearts have delivered their best album to date and have managed to further refine their own individual sound within the wider newgrass genre while also bringing a flavour of the Pacific North West to their music. The level of harmony singing on ‘Lost Love Songs’ adds to the listener-friendly sound to go with their dynamic instrumental chops. Joey Capoccia’s songwriting continues to develop and Dean Shakked’s bass helps define the unique sound of the Pine Hearts. Derek McSwain is there to ensure whatever flights of fancy they take, they will always stay true to the real spirit of bluegrass.
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