VIDEO: Three Tall Pines releasing second CD at local shows
For Conor Smith of Quincy, playing music has always been a passion, so when his wife took a job at UMass-Boston, it was an easy decision for the 35-year-old, classically trained violinist to leave a career in corporate finance for a full-time music career.
Almost a year and half ago, Smith found his niche by chance with Three Tall Pines, a Boston-based quartet that has just released its second CD, “All That’s Left.” The group will be celebrating its release Thursday at The Narrows in Fall River and Sunday at Club Passim in Cambridge.
“Getting in with the Three Tall Pines has been great,” Smith said. “The wheels have been turning this last year since our record was recorded and it seems like we’re hitting a good pace right now … It’s great playing original music. You have your own form, your own art installed in the music, you know?”
The group’s Americana, old-timey and bluegrass styles offer a hint of a tighter Old Crowe Medicine Show, sans harmonica. Sweetly honed harmonies mix with rustic images of love and living in the country. In performance, they sing around one microphone, which adds to the energy level. “Not only can you feel the energy when you’re standing right next to someone, but you can also make eye contact,” Smith said. “Even being in the studio, we were right next to each other, and we did the whole thing live … so there’s no overdubbing on our record, which is amazing. It’s really an organic sound.”
Their unique mix has resulted in some acclaim, winning the 2011 band competition at the Ossippee Valley Music Festival, getting recognized by Motif Arts Magazine and being the featured new band on FolkAlley.com. Led by the songwriting of founders Dan Bourdeau (guitar, from Taunton, Mass.) and Joe Lurgio (mandolin, from Warwick, R.I.), they are bolstered by the inventive fiddling from Smith and fun-filled dobro and bass from Gian Pangaro (Cambridge, Mass.).
The new CD includes guest performances from some folks who are becoming well-known in the Boston area, including Berklee College of Music student Gabe Hirschfeld on banjo and a couple of members of bluegrass/Americana band Della Mae, including Celia Woodsmith and Jenni Lyn Gardner, along with a dozen other performers whom they refer to as the Weary Traveler Chorus.
During the days, Smith teaches classical violin in private lessons at the Beechwood Knolls Elementary School in Quincy for their Totally Arts program and he teaches music appreciation at the Wollaston Hills Cornerstone Campus preschool. He says his students love seeing him play. Several heard the band play last year at the Bluegrass on the Bogs festival (East Wareham, Mass.). He also goes with his children, Oliver, 7, and Nina, 5, and his wife, Amy, to the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival (Oak Hill, N.Y.), and other festivals.
Originally from Pawtucket, R.I., Smith moved to Quincy from New York. Though he enjoyed listening to bluegrass music, he admits he didn’t know much about it. But he connected with the band after attending bluegrass jams at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, where he met people who invited him to a picking party.
“These two guys were sitting over in the corner pointing at me and whispering. Later that night they came over and introduced themselves, and it was Joe and Dan from Three Tall Pines. They just said they were looking for a new fiddle player, someone with a little more energy and pizazz, and so I went out and met them for a rehearsal one night and we hit it off … I quickly learned all their new songs and we went right into the studio.”
This is a video from their performance at Ossippee, a song called “Guilford 309.”
The songs on their new CD mix folk, blues, country and bluegrass. Lurgio’s “Hard Rain,” a song of lost love and loneliness, is solid bluegrass. “Station Line” is a tender, finger-picked ballad in which the man (Lurgio) and woman (Woodsmith) tell parallel tales of meeting their soul mates in separate train stations and longing to see them again some day. The waltz of “Blue Pontiac” is a classic country cheating song.
Smith, who on the new CD sings high tenor on two songs, says in each song there’s a real effort to address the feelings that Joe and Dan have written into the music. In the waltz of “Black Sunday Blues,” for example, a slow-paced ballad about a dust storm, the mandolin, fiddle and bass solo meld in a unique way to create a whirlwind effect.
The CD includes a couple of instrumentals, including “Rosebud,” which rings like a traditional fiddle melody, and “Metamorphosis,” a bluegrass melody that gives each player a chance to shine, even adding a few enjoyable measures with bowed bass. The CD ends with Bourdeau’s lovely choral sing-along “Weary Traveler,” which I could hear being sung around the campfire or at virtually any folk gathering:
“Give me a blanket all frayed and worn
So I can lay it down on this dusty floor
It will keep me warm at night when the frost bends the pines
Give me a blanket all frayed and worn”