Beyond The Pines

On Stranger Angels, David Huckfelt steps out on his own

David Huckfelt / Photo by Andy Witchger

Suffice it to say that if you’re willing to take yourself to a remote island, albeit one in the located in Lake Superior, and leave the band that’s helped you launch your career, you’re either going through a midlife crisis or dealing with some other internal dilemma.

One might look to the examples of Syd Barrett and his unexpected departure from Pink Floyd, or Bill Wyman’s decision to abandon the Rolling Stones, the band that gave him a steady job, and a well-paying gig at that. Most artists, especially those rising in the ranks, ride that rocket all the way up, especially when potential still lies ahead.

Consequently, it does come as a bit of a surprise that David Huckfelt, a founding member of the slow spun indie folk outfit The Pines, decided to leave the comfort of his environs, both musical and physical, and accept an artist in residence invitation in those isolated environs. The result, Stranger Angels, isn’t necessarily a departure from the band’s tenuous template, but rather a declaration of independence accompanied by all the added mysticism and search for spirituality that such a move might imply.

Stranger Angels for me was a record that took fifteen years to think about, fifteen days to write, and about fifty hours to record,” Huckfelt declares. “The record is an experiment in polarities — I wrote all the songs in solitude, in just about the most remote, staggeringly beautiful locale in the United States – Isle Royale National Park, the largest island in the largest lake in the world — Lake Superior in Michigan — and brought this heavy, rough-hewn bag of songs into the incredibly warm and  ridiculously talented group of my best friends in the world, to breathe full life into them, on an old farm in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Shooting stars, slow moving freighters, abandoned lighthouses — all these were the backdrop to my desperate attempt to strip away the trappings of ferociously cluttered modern life, and get back to the heart’s slow turning and hard learning of who to love and how.”

David Huckfelt Stranger Angels, Tone Tree 2019

Clearly, the place left a lingering impression, and that’s evident in the solace and shimmer provided by such strikingly beautiful soundscapes as “King Whirl,” “Still & Still Moving,” “Everywind,”” and “Heart Wherever.” In fact, that lush, lingering sense of place and time instills each of the twelve songs with a serene sonic sweep and a sense of wistful reflection that provides the album with a mournful yet melodious ambiance throughout.

“Isle Royale is the land of room enough, time enough, and home to an abundance of strange angels — moose and wolves, beavers and cranes, swan and sturgeon swimming in the depths,” Huckfelt continued. “The Ojibwe (Indians) called it ‘Minong,’ meaning ‘The good place,’ and it is, without a doubt, what the old Celtic’s referred to as a ‘thin place,’ a place where heaven and earth draw near. And as such, a portal to another world, one where the spirit slows down and begins to approach balance again, a rightful place in the universe.”

That imagery, in turn, inspired Huckfelt to create his own album, rather than to filter it through the band.

“There was really no conscious decision to make this a solo record as opposed to running it through the prism of The Pines,” he insists. “The concentration and urgency of these songs, they’re sprouting up with just a little air, sunlight and solitude, alerted me to the fact that I was onto something new, and something truly myself.  The artist-residency on Isle Royale gave me perspective on all the aspects of vision and partnerships, and with the modern music industry in an artist-damaging tailspin where the old methods of touring & recording are obsolete, I knew I wanted to make this concise, clear statement as myself alone, for whatever it’s worth or where it landed in the world.”

Asked whether the Pines will reconvene, Huckfelt leaves that answer open-ended.

“The Pines have always been the hopeless romantics of the folk world, and by always putting the music first and business second we’ve taken our lumps at the hands of a changing music landscape,” he reflects.  “The Pines, at the heart, is truly a place where the three of our musical visions overlap, and as such will never really be done per say…but after 12 years of touring and putting so much of life and health on hold, it was time for a break. The motto has always been ‘Keep The Pines Weird,’ and that includes everything — solo records, sabbaticals, hiatus, and hopefully a reunion as well…”

 

 

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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