Trailhead is the recording name for German Americana singer-songwriter Tobias Panwitz, apparently acquired during his time as part of the trail maintenance crew in Northern California’s Redwood National Park, where each day began a new trailhead. It’s clear he has an affinity with the great outdoors and Into The Mountains, his sixth album, relates to a thirty day trek he spent walking across the Alps from Salzburg to Trieste and the experiences along the way that spawned the songs as he went.
A largely solo acoustic affair with friends contributing electric guitar, bass and violin here and there, it opens with the scene setting acoustic guitar and violin instrumental ‘Heading Out’ before harmonica introduces the title track, a jaunty Guthrie-esque strum recounting setting off and first day but, in a wider context, echoes the old adage of how a journey, physical or otherwise, always beings with the first step. Musically, it pretty much sets the tone for what follows, his route map signposted by such other influences as Dylan, Rambling Jack Elliott, Seeger, Eric Andersen, Tom Rush and kindred 60s folk spirits.
“It’s all about the trail”, he observes in the bouncy strum of ‘(When You’re) Out Walking’ which basically suggests you can either stay at home and be safe or pull on your boots and discover the world. The first of the specific incidents comes with ‘Thank God For Those People’, a reference to a couple who were clearing the trail and digging drainage ditches and a man marking trees and rocks to provide a guide, and you don’t really need me to tell you the point he’s making here.
The fingerpicked ‘On The Move’ is another instrumental, here with background organ, leading to the piano and charango-based invitation to ‘Walk With Me’ and share the journey of only for a while where he kind of reminds me of a melding of Stan Rogers and Harry Chapin. Another strummed number, ‘God On My Side’ finds him with aching feet and perhaps a touch of food poisoning, a sense of what the hell am I doing setting in, but, as the title suggests, again about how we sometimes need the help of others, be they divine or human, to make it to the top of the mountain and down the other side. Again accompanied by violin, ‘Thinking Nothing’ celebrates when you just empty your head and soak yourself in the moment, a third guitar and piano instrumental, ‘Ramblin’’, the bridge to the loping bluesy groove of finding his rhythm in ‘Breathing In, Breathing Out’ coming out the train rolling tempo of ‘On The Other Side’, again about the wider theme of digging into who you are making it through.
Harmonica returns for ‘Miles And Miles’, an upbeat number with the end in sight and putting dark thoughts aside when faced with the beauty of nature from the peak on a lyric that references the 19th century German naturalist and explorer Alexander van Humboldt and in the line “I can see for miles and miles”, surely also The Who.
There’s two further instrumental passages, first the serene ‘Evening Walk’ and, guitar accompanied by dreamy violin the bookending ‘Heading Out Again’, with, on either side of the latter, the simple resonantly fingerpicked ‘The Road Goes On’ which boils down to saying that the end of a journey is just the start of another and about sharing the moments between them, and, finally closing with the coda of an alternate version of ‘Walk With Me’ that dispenses with the piano to place its emphasis on strummed and chiming resonator guitar.
An album that sound as clear as a mountain stream, infused with air you want to fill your lungs, his boots were meant for walking and you really should let them walk all over you.
Artist’s website: www.trailheadmusic.com
‘Into The Mountains’ – official video: