There has always been a streak of rebellion running through the musical world, with artists seeking to be new and different. Bill Monroe was one of those, and frankly, so was Mozart, though it’s perhaps hard to see from our vantage point. Some are angry different, like Jimi Hendrix shredding the US national anthem at Woodstock. Totally pissed. Others are happy different, like George Clinton on “One Nation Under a Groove.” Fun as punch.
Twisted Pine are different, too, the very definition of happy different. Positively cock-a-hoop. And, like Clinton and Hendrix, they’ve got a whole lot of chops to back it up. If you’re feeling like a bit of a moldy fig, you might want to jump directly to “Papaya.”
The skills here are simply astronomical, and the material, for the most part, has been developed in the same way that great comedians develop their material: live, in front of an audience, over the course of years. There’s no substitute for that, and it shows in spades.
The musical palette the quartet is able to draw from is as broad as the continent itself. If Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson were to sit in on a jam at Clifftop, there’s a good chance that it would sound like “Fogo de Chow.” There are layers of influence on show, too, yet always deployed in the service of the song—they can do a lot, but they don’t do it just because they can, they do it because they should. The players, all impossibly young, have enough technique on hand (witness their tear through Tex Logan’s “Come Along Jody”) to pull off what, to most musicians, is nothing short of a high-wire act. (That song “Papaya”? It was recorded live in the studio. Wowzers. When you hear it you’ll realize how remarkable that feat is.)
This kind of thing takes more than technique. It also takes taste, and an ability to approach new musical ideas with a light touch and a ton of confidence. And they do. Over, and over, and over again. Not everything works equally well or in the same way. “Talkeetna” is to the gorgeous “Dreamaway” as the Beatles’ “Revolution 9” is to “Blackbird.” One of them is just going to get more play than the other.
As a whole, the material here is colourful, bright, inviting; thoughtful, meaty, and fun. It’s also programmed the way that albums used to be, with a clear arc from beginning, to middle, to end. You land at the final song “Tomorrow Will Rise” in the mood for some sheer beauty, a chance to exhale, and Twisted Pine delivers by the bushel. You might want to have some tissues handy. All told, this is far and away one of the best releases you’ll hear this year. (He says, trying to sound restrained when he really wants to say “Good Christ, this is fantastic!”) Is it folk? Is it jazz? Who cares. It’s exceptional. (You can hear the mothership land at the very end, too. Seriously.)