These are the good old days

Everything about Woody Pines (from his feather-festooned fedora and his vintage resonator guitar to the grainy pictured of boxcars on his Web site and deep cut covers of long-forgotten blues musicians) harkens to another era. One of juke joints, clapboard shacks and coal smoke on the wind. Pines, whose early performances borrowed from vaudeville and involved elaborate back drops, admits, "I believe in the visual. I'm always thinking of new ways to make it a show. Some people want to just keep it real, but when you're on stage it's a show."

Casting a spell of the past: Juke joints, clapboard shacks and coal smoke on the wind.

That said, Pines doesn't want to be pigeonholed as any sort of throwback act. "I grew up playing '60s rock in cover bands," he reveals. "I was listening to country music but my friends were listening to The Doors and Nirvana. Nirvana did 'In the Pines,' that old Lead Belly tune, so I started tracing [music] back. It got weirder and crazier."

That's the genesis for Pines' current sound; a fusion of old-time, rag time, jazz, blues, retro country and American folk. For Pines, who has a low-fi aesthetic, Bob Dylan's version of "Man of Constant Sorrow" was the portal to a half-century of recordings growing ever-more bare bones going back in time. "The voices sounded scratchy and edgy," Pines says about versions of that song dating to the 1950s and '20s. "The first generation of music that people were making before the music industry got involved was stripped of the layer of gloss that recording studios would [later] put on it."

Though Pines and his shape-shifting band (previously called "The Lonesome Two" or "The Lonesome Three," depending on its numbers) play a lot of covers, the group's new self-released disc, Counting Alligators, contains the most original material to date. Which is not to say the songs written by Pines are a departure from form — in fact, they blend seamlessly with vintage offerings like the jumping tune "Rich Gal, Poor Gal" and the folk ballad "Casey Jones." The album's title track is a Texas two-step that, according to Pines, recounts "a lot of our experiences in Louisiana."

The musician lived in Louisiana for about five years as part of the Cajun scene in Lafayette before moving to Asheville. "I love old-time and wanted to immerse myself in that music," he explains. Pines digested a steady diet of Americana roots styles, claiming, "I had an ulterior motive: to get into the melodies and be able to write like that. I wanted to take the best music that I heard [because] as an artist I like to create this vibe of the folk mind."

Though Pines says that his listeners can distinguish his originals from the covers (worth noting: On Alligators, Pines paid royalties to the estate of rockabilly artist Billy Briggs, credited for the invention of the lap steel, for the use of the song "Chew Tobacco Rag"), he suspects the spirit of the music still speaks to people. Take "Walking Down the Road," which has a bittersweet Woody Guthrie feel to it. "The graveyard may be haunted, the swamp it might be thick, the furniture man might come and take up the bed tick," he sings, echoing both the Great Depression and the toll of the recent recession on working class people. Perhaps less universal but highly entertaining is "Crazy-Eyed Woman" (made all the more spooky-atmospheric thanks to slide guitar by Old Crow Medicine Show's Gill Landry). "Took me to Chino to find a hooker, she was a mess but quite a looker. What happens next I wish I could forget," Pines sings. It's a song that should be performed in a smoky road house in some bygone era.

"I don't want to be just recycling music. That music was so good, I don't want to just remake it," the musician says. "I like casting the spell of the past."

Counting Alligators benefits as much from Pines' admittedly rosy-colored, feel-good interpretation of history as it does from the musician's talented friends (contributors to the album include alto saxophonist Aurora Nealand, fiddler Darin Gentry from Brian McGee & the Hollow Speed and sax and cornet player Henry Westmoreland from Firecracker Jazz Band) and travels. Pines recorded both in Asheville and in Landry's Nashville-based Rubber Tramp Studio, and he spends at least half the year on the road. The future promises a European tour — the band's first — but Pines is also looking forward to playing more Asheville shows.

Alli Marshall can be reached at

who: Woody Pines
what: CD-release party for new album Counting Alligators
where: Mo Daddy's
when: Saturday, Nov. 14 (9 p.m.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.