I'm always a little wary of musicians who try too hard to innovate or put a modern spin on folk, Americana and country music. These are sounds and styles that are built more on storytelling and emotions than aesthetics, anyhow, so if you don't have something interesting to say in the first place, it's likely to be a hollow shell of a sound no matter how you dress it up. 

That hasn't stopped some from trying: David Gray dressed up folk with trip-hop beats; Mumford & Sons got seemingly endless mileage out of just one busker-stomp rhythm; and a wide range of artists in the last decade put the "freak" back in folk, to varying degrees of success.

Trying to reinvent folk music has never been the goal of The Midnight Pine, at least as far as I know. And yet there's a freshness to their music that eludes some of the slicker, more stylized string pluckers of late. Much of this can be credited to the vocal style of leader Shelbi Bennett, who wavers between sounding contemporary and being broadcast from a haunted Victrola, circa 1955. Her voice is a bit bluesier and deeper than those of like-minded singer / songwriters like Jolie Holland and Neko Case, but it's a uniquely sublime instrument all the same. Just listen to her overdubbed vocal harmonies on the a cappella standout "Lavish in Bloom" from new album Buried; it's about as perfect as a 56-second song gets.

On Buried, the group walks the line between modern and vintage with ease, while appearing to pay little mind to either. Theirs is an atmospheric, almost gothic style of folk that can be chilling, like on the vibraphone-accented "Hey There," or gently earthy, as on "Edge of Town." Every song is gorgeously arranged, ranging from noisy and ominous ("Mother of Amends") to drunken torch-song burlesque ("Tears"). 

From a distance, it might not seem as if The Midnight Pine have done anything particularly radical on Buried. And that's for the best; there's no need to stand in the way of songs this good. 

Email jefft@sdcitybeat.com or follow him at @1000TimesJeff


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