Bi-Continental Folk-Pop Group The Burnt Pines Create Rousing Debut (ALBUM REVIEW)

This trio, The Burnt Pines, first came together in a Lisbon, Portugal recording studio in the summer of 2018, with two of them having met prior to that at Boston’s esteemed Berklee School of Music. They are Danish-born singer and lyricist Kris Skovmand, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Flanders, and Portuguese-born keyboard player and arranger Miguel Sá Pessoa. They also brought in three more players to round out the unit – Fernando Huergo on 5-string electric bass, Luis Barros on drums and percussion, and Dan Fox (2 tracks) on upright bass.  The confluence of interesting cultural and artistic backgrounds yields to mostly smooth, free-flowing, lush, layered blend of acoustic and electric music reminiscent at times of Bruce Cockburn (without the acerbic lyrics), Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers with ethereal qualities akin to, rather coincidentally in name at least, The Pines.

The album, recorded in both Boston and Sá Pessoa’s Lisbon studio, opens with the romantic, guitar-driven “Diamonds,” a first listen to Skovmand’s vocals and lyrics paired with Flanders guitar. Flanders weaves banjo and guitar on “Heavy and Young” while “Song for Rose” settles into a gentle guitar strummed ballad imbued by layers of melodica. Interestingly, Skovmand is the only one credited with vocals but he layers them on some tunes to create the effect of harmonies.  The tunes flow rather seamlessly into one another with a serious underpinning of lyrics until reaching “Oh Me, Oh My,” a lighter radio-friendly tune on the seventh track, making it along with the first two, the album’s standout tracks.

The band certainly mastered the art of pandemic recording as explained by Flanders. “Kris and Miguel share a studio in Lisbon. I would send my guitar parts over to their studio. They would work on it at that point. Kris would write all the lyrics. Amazingly enough, once I sent the guitar parts over there, Kris would always do these songs in one session of three or four hours. He could come up with all the lyrics and, in a good number of cases, all the melody. Once the initial rough version was down, we might play with it a little. But sometimes we didn’t have to, depending on the song.”

Aaron Flanders, a native of Highland Park, Illinois, studied at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, where he met Miguel Sá Pessoa, who was born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal surrounded by a family of Classical musicians. Studying at the Lisbon Conservatory as a Classical piano student, Sá Pessoa’s musical interests soon shifted to Jazz and he earned a full scholarship to Berklee College. While both were living in Boston, Flanders and Sá Pessoa worked together on a variety of projects, including designing all the music for Symphony in B., an award-winning interactive musical toy for young children for the Battat Toy Company of Montreal. 

Sá Pessoa also worked as a producer, arranger, and engineer with several successful pop musicians in the Boston area before moving back to Portugal and opening his recording studio. Kris Skovmand, also a filmmaker, grew up in Denmark, married a native of Lisbon, and met Sá Pessoa when he moved into his studio. Skovmand and Flanders met when Flanders was marketing songs on the music platform, Taxi, and Skovmand sang on songs Flanders had written. These three not share a circuitous path but multiple artistic visions as Flanders is the creator and writer of a series of best-selling how-to books on the craft of balloon animals and balloon sculpture. That feeling of lightness, spaciousness, and creativity seems to mesh perfectly with Skovmand’s ethereal bent to both lyrics and vocals. Not only have they bridged continents, but they’ve bridged some age gaps with Skovmand and Barros being around thirty and the others being quite a bit older.  Nonetheless, this bi-continental union, having laid down these twelve solid tracks, is already well on their way to their next record, with seven originals and two covers already in the can.

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