(independent, 2006)

Pineross's self-titled debut album is an impressive start for songwriter, director, producer, multi-intrumentalist and who-knows-what-else-he's-done-on-this-album Kevin Larkin and about a half-dozen instrumental musicians.

This album has a definite southwest vibe that would be appropriate in nearly any setting, be it while watching a John Ford flick, driving on the open road or relaxing in a coffeehouse. A few songs take a geographical jump that skew a bit from the southwestern/TexMex flavor, notably the seafaring qualities of "Nantucket" and "Nopal" (despite the title being a Mexican vegetable, that tune sounds more Irish than anything else).

Each song has a strong sense of narrative from all aspects, not just the lyrics. Larkin's voice has a thick, almost throaty quality that could tell a story all on its own. Check out this effect in "Country Legend" -- the weariness and experiences conveyed through the lyrics are reinforced by Larkin's vocal style (in a positive way, of course).

While Larkin is 90-95 percent of the album, the "half-dozen instrumental musicians" certainly make their presence known. To call Charlie Rose's banjo performance on "Are You Familiar With the Alphabet?" anything less than incredible would be unfair. Rose maintains an intense, intended pace that serves as the backbone of the song and shines when given the spotlight. And Fransisco Marquez's harmonica work on the previously mentioned "Country Legend" really set the tone for the story.

There is a rather odd element that pops up in "Back 'n Forth." Larkin lays in an audio track from an uncredited "golden age" television comedy show, including the canned laughter from the television audience. The inclusion of this sound doesn't wax nostalgic or establish a temporal context; it only serves to distract from an otherwise interesting song. It's difficult to hear what the comedians/actors are saying and the laugh track is very annoying. It's too bad Pineross doesn't offer a simpler version of "Back 'n Forth" because their performance seems like it could stand alone without the audio oddity.

The use of other-source audio is odd both for this album in particular and odd in general because it's a technique/component that is popping up in more than a few roots songs these days. It seems some use this technique to establish a particular timetable/context or make a political statement (e.g. speech excerpts from JFK or MLK Jr.), while others are milking nostalgia. I don't know if this emerging prevalence is due to more musicians becoming comfortable with producing their own music and try new things, but in the case of multi-layered audio on top of their own music, I wish they would go back to a simpler "just the music" approach more often than not.

Well, rest assure that is only a problem with one track. The majority of Pineross is certainly worth a listen.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

9 February 2008

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