Soul Jazz Records released a great compilation in 2011 called Delta Swamp Music. It was a double album jambalaya of rock, boogie and soul, all with a rich southern musical sauce ladled over the top, and the music of Whispering Pines would have sat very comfortably on that album, in amongst the Allman Brothers, Bobby Gentry, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Big Star. Like much of that compilation, there’s plenty of southern influence, from Muscle Shoals to Jacksonville, but being Californian, Whispering Pines have equal instincts towards breezy pop and a loose, languid spirit that owes as much to the proximity of surf as swamp.
With their self-titled second album the band from Echo Park (formerly home to Elliott Smith, whose analog studio was used to record the band’s 2010 debut “Family Tree”) have taken a fabulously diverse geographical blend of influences, and forged an album which makes its variety its strength. As befitting a band named after a song by the Band, there is a collective element to the Californian five piece’s work, and it’s no surprise to learn that the group originally formed as Jonathan Wilson’s backing band. Like the Eagles, a band whose members variously kicked around the Echo Park area before they hit the big time, Whispering Pines are blessed with four songwriters, all of whom sing lead on their own compositions.
That sharing of songwriting duties can sometimes dilute a band’s focus, but not so with Whispering Pines. David Burden and Joe Bourdet’s tendency towards classic southern rock fill their contributions with Skynyrdesque foot stomping grooves, while bassist Brian Filosa conjures up the album’s most Californian moments with the joyously infectious pop of One More Second Chance and Sunrise to Sunset. David Baine is the glue between the two songwriting sides with his contributions, the ambling bayou-blues of Come and Play and the rollicking good time riffathon of Fine Time. Closing track Broken Spoke brings it all together, a country shuffle with gorgeous harmonies straight out of the Jayhawks book of harmonizing.
As an album Whispering Pines feels very much like the distillation of ten years of great music – from the Band’s game-changing blend of everything from soul and gospel to country and early rock’n'roll in the late ’60s to the ’70s boogie rock of Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers – which ended prematurely with the untimely deaths of Ronnie Van Zant and Duane Allman. Perhaps more importantly, the songwriting, playing and production are so uniformly superb, that the album transcends its nostalgic roots and marks itself as a genuinely fine addition to the genre. In fact it’s so on-the-money that once we’d listened to it, it made us dig out vinyl copies of Music from Big Pink and (Pronounced ‘Leh-’nérd ‘Skin-’nérd), stick them on the turntable and crank them out at full blast. And there’s no higher praise than that.
“Whispering Pines” is released on 18 September.
Whispering Pines official site