By Cameron Arndt, live pics by CA
On their second album Red Pine Timber Company go bigger, louder and more intense, while also descending deeper into incisive introspection and lyrical musings on difficult subjects.
You’d be hard pressed to find another band in Scotland right now with such an expansive sound. Red Pine’s sonic template boasts an ever-shifting fusillade of instruments, employed by a large cast of top class musicians. The solid backbone of bassist Thom Bubb and drummer Ivan Sveda are bolstered by a triple guitar attack, and given breadth by a three or four piece brass section. Two lead singers are augmented by perfectly pitched backing harmonies, and each song is given colour and texture via it’s own unique arrangement which might include swirling harmonica, aching violin or twinkling pedal steel amongst much else.
It all adds up to a startling blend of big band country rock and Americana, shot through with elements of blues and soul, maybe even a little funk and jazz. Unexpected from a group hailing from Perth, nestled in the very the heart of Scotland? Maybe so! Still, RPTC have long since proved that they can deliver this music with as much energy and enthusiasm as any band from Alabama, Kansas or Tennessee. Not only that but any quibbles over authenticity are rendered moot by the genuine, razor sharp lyrics – delivered with gritty, wounded authority by Gavin Munro, or tangible, aching emotion by Katie Whittaker – which show the group has far more to say than any cookie-cutter Nashville collective who tick off the cars/heartbreak/pick up truck clichés.
Sorry For The Good Times expands on 2014’s debut, Different Lonesome, with twelve tracks of prime Americana that run the gamut from uptempo stompers to delicate mediations on the trials of life. If You Want To fizzes and thrills as it kicks things off: Spiky guitar, thrumming bass and thumping kick are quickly joined by the widescreen brass section. The two leads share the vocal creating classic country harmonies on a song which encapsulates all the main elements of the band’s sound and sets the scene for a record which often returns to themes of alcohol and isolation, or tough relationship-ending decisions with the chorus, ‘If you want to turn me on to the way you like to see me hurt, I would gladly walk away from you.’
The record was produced by bandmember David MacFarlane – also contributing guitar, vocals and especially the excellent violin which haunts lead single Hollow Tree, even as it ramps up from tender opening to ultra-catchy chorus. While the album doesn’t quite capture the freewheeling power the band summon live (how could it?!), MacFarlane’s done a great job with every instrument sounding fresh and crisp, and plenty of vitality to a mix which succeeds in letting every musician have a chance to shine.
The songs contribute to that as well, there’s no grabbing the limelight, everyone waits their turn and in return is given a moment in the spotlight. Former sax player Milan Felix was still around to take a light, jazz inflected sax solo on Put Down The Bottle – an otherwise elegiac plea delivered with plaintive imploration by Whittaker – while current saxophonist Neil Ewen’s dynamic lead is perfect for the wild Look At The Moonlight – more on that track later! Elsewhere Chris Small’s trombone is the star on the dynamic All I Need’s A Little Time which starts out with a slick 1920’s vibe before transforming into a full on gospel rave up with shouted chants (led in by, I think, Small himself), and there’s great electric guitar work by MacFarlane and Michael McNab on the sweeping For The Angels and the breakneck Cutting You Loose.
There’s a slight dip in tempo towards the middle of the album with perhaps one too many slow songs – although there’s no particular one I’d remove – and Cutting You Loose does rescue things somewhat as it’s full-tilt country provides a needed injection of pace at the midpoint of the record.
The strength of the more measured cuts is in the way they allow the singers to really convey the intent behind the lyrics. The majority are written by frontman Gav Munro; his acoustic guitar underpins most of the tracks and he proves just as adept at evocative couplets – ‘The radio’s on and it’s Billy Holiday,’ ‘My soul is clean but my hands are dirty’ are two which appear in the smooth, swinging Some Kind Of Pretty – as he is at scribing soulful , cautionary tales shot through with hints of desperation. The foreboding Barstool, for example, has a laid back groove with shimmering pedal steel and searching violin over which Munro gives himself no quarter, ‘Think I’m gonna find me another barstool, this one’s held me for so long. Running out of explanations, guess I’ll just be moving on’…‘So pour me one more, I don’t mean to burden no one, soon as I can find the door I guess I’ll just be moving on.’ Even the aforementioned Cutting You Loose finds the narrator giving up and getting out of a relationship – though this time without regret, ‘I’m sorry for the good times, I ain’t making no excuse.’
Then there’s two very different but equally excellent cuts, the cracking livewire wig-out, Look At The Moonlight – with Small putting his superlative harmonica skills to good use – and the gorgeous Tracks In The Snow, a wonderfully fragile slice of light Americana atop softly brushed drums with a superb Whittaker vocal backed by stacked harmonies and finished with an unexpected Spanish guitar solo – a strange twist to the style of music that somehow fits perfectly. The record ends with the slow burning Dry Your Eyes, resplendent with sweetly picked guitars and a slightly slicker, more modern style. The song takes it’s time to build, adding layers of instruments and sounds as it goes, before ending in fine style on some big stops and soaring violin/guitar interactions.
There’s a lot going on in Sorry For The Good Times, and for this the band should make no apologies, as the blend of strong songs, excellent performances and well-judged production mix into an engaging, enjoyable and all round fascinating listen.
Sorry For The Good Times is released 26th January 2018.