THE PINE HEARTS – Back To Sustain (own label)

Back To SustainThe Pine Hearts are a string-band trio from Washington state: Joey Capoccia, who plays guitar and writes the band’s original material, Derek McSwain playing mandolin and Dean Shakked on upright bass. Back To Sustain, their 5th album is a stripped back affair comprising previously recorded songs; just three voices and three instruments recorded on an old 4-track cassette tape machine. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. These days it takes something special to prompt me to investigate a band’s back catalogue but this does just that.

We kick off with ‘Back To Sustain’, a nice gentle song that sounds like a warm-up for what’s to come. The first verse features just Capoccia’s voice and guitar, the second is enriched with bass and mandolin and everyone’s in for the chorus. It’s a bit reminiscent of Tom Petty in his softer moments and, guess what, Petty will feature later. Next is the traditional ‘Stealin’’ and there’s not a lot you can do with that except enjoy it and that’s what The Pine Hearts do. Capoccia steals the first instrumental break and give McSwain the second. The punningly titled ‘By You On The Bayou’ is a love song dressed up as a bluegrass romp and Scott Nolan’s ‘Good Luck By The Sea’ really motors.

When we’ve been softened up things become a little darker with ‘Alright Fine’. “It’s all strip malls until you reach the city, then it’s strip malls again” is the downbeat opening line but the singer escapes to the country with his woman to find domestic bliss, so that’s OK. ‘Standing In The Corners’, another cover, raises the spirits with a finger-breaking tune but is there a sadness in the lyrics? I’m not sure.

‘Open Road’ is a road-trip movie in a song with a touch of nostalgia and then Capoccia hits us with ‘Living With Depression’. Whoa, this is heavy stuff: “The rhythm of the chemicals can’t be controlled but the pattern is simple”. He knows what he’s talking about and the load gets only a little lighter with ‘The Heartache Or The Whiskey?’. Tom Petty returns in the shape of his song, ‘Orphan Of The Storm’, another downer. Except that The Pine Hearts don’t let anything bring them down as the closing ‘All Night Long’ proves.

There’s a wonderful feeling of ease about Back To Sustain, you know the band have playing these songs for years and can take the chance to let their hair down a bit. I really, really like this record.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘By You On The Bayou’ – live:

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