Woody Pines has a sound and a style all his own, by way of a century of American music traditions. Pines’ new EP, You Gotta Roll, released this past April, is five more songs that flirt with country jazz, swing, rockabilly and folk — as filtered through Pines’ refined taste and well-traveled charm.
Maybe it’s because it’s just five songs, but Roll is honed from start to finish. Which is not to say that Pines’ previous albums didn’t hit a high water mark; it’s just that Roll is so consistent, so pitch-perfect vintage, the synthesis of retro influences and modern sensibility so fully realized that, more than an EP, Roll is a short story told in song.
That said, I’m not quite sure what the storyline is here. But there’s definitely a character just behind the wink of Pines’ delivery. A traveler, a route 66 sort of guy. A guy who wears a suit even as he jumps a boxcar (though his ride of choice is more likely a Model 48 Ford).
“Long Gone” kicks off the album with the kind of snap and drive that followed swing and predated rock. The groove sits on a sturdy baseline allowing for some fancy clarinet work.
“Red Rocking Chair” is a gathering thundercloud, trading the brightness of the first track for minor chords and a spooky fiddle so eerie that it sounds almost like a ghostly voice. The song is attributed to old-time musician Moran Lee “Dock” Boggs (all of the songs on Roll are covers by musicians who, Pines told No Depression, “have all changed my life”), but here it’s reimagined; given new life.
“Ham and Eggs” is a Leadbelly tune. Or, rather, it’s inspired by the spooky chain-gang-like blues song from the early part of the last century. Pines’ take on the number shares little with the original. Here, the juke joint is jumping and the refrain (from whence the album takes its title), “You gotta roll, roll in a hurry,” sounds like an invitation to dance more than marching orders. The guitar is neat and stylized, the bass and drums a clock-tight rhythm section.
Listen to “Ham and Eggs” here:
“Can’t Keep You Off My Mind” ambles along with its walking baseline and harmonica. It’s a broken-hearted song only in theme; the music is a bouncy two step, perfect for taking a spin around the dance floor.
You Gotta Roll ends with “Treat You Right,” a fast-paced country-blues number, originally by Washington Phillips. Pines and his band layered the song’s instrumentation, but there’s still a sense of white space and simplicity, allowing Pines’ vocal to take center stage. But even though the singing is the focal point, Pines’ delivery is tastefully minimal — just what the song needs and no embellishment. It’s all about getting the story told.