Excuse me while I mop my brow. Piefinger is back and I really thought we might not hear anything more from them. More than their breakthrough 2006 album, Where You Might Go, anyaway. Okay, maybe not a breakthrough, but it might have been and if I'd had my way, would have been. There was something very special about the songs on that album—a style which morphed to each song, the way they utilized harmonies, that very unique Jana Carpenter voice and way of phrasing. It caught me totally by surprise back then and I spent months trying to help spread the word. Then, life got in the way. For myself and for Piefinger.
For myself, it was a matter of a workload piling up to the rafters and an inability to say no to bands who asked for reviews and/or help who truly have the goods. For Piefinger, it was more a morphing of a rock band. They were five. Now they are three. Gone is lynchpin Glynne Steele, songwriter extraordinaire. He had exploring to do and has, to my knowledge, gone solo. Gone is drummer Ben Woollacott (he is not listed as a band member but does play on the new release, A Countryman's Favour). Still intact is the basic core of the reformed (if they never really split up, do they qualify as "reformed"?) Piefinger: Jana Carpenter, David Sherwood and Rachel Steadman.
Losing Steele and Woollacott could not have been easy. Especially Steele. He was a core songwriter, I am sure, though the songs on Where You Might Go are listed as communal. I am guessing when I hear Other Side of the Morning and Hedgerider and Sudden Intake of Breath and attribute them to Steele, but I believe it a good guess. I have checked out his MySpace page and can hear similarities. But Carpenter, Sherwood and Steadman toughed it out and actually found their own muses and have come out of the band implosion very much a band. A Countryman's Favour is proof, as subjective as it must be.
The harmonies are still there. All three voices blend very well and they have even brought Steadman to the fore as lead voice on a couple of tunes, something they did not do on the first album. I am pleased to say that Steadman holds her own nicely, thank you, and brings a very pleasant touch to the songs, both in the fore and in the background. Jana Carpenter returns as Jana Carpenter, a real key to Piefinger's sound (when you hear her, you'll understand) and Sherwood—well, he's Sherwood and if you heard the first album you would know what I'm saying. They all sing beautifully solo, but the harmonies separate them from the chaff. What I'm saying is that they are a vocal group more than anything, emphasis on the voices.
So if you have a vocal presence, what do you do when one of your main writing forces exits, stage left? If you're a pro, you learn how to write. Well, not learn. They already knew how to write. They just needed to place emphasis on it.
That emphasis comes many years later, time which would have found the five man band experimenting and changing direction in places. For the new and leaner lineup, those directions become key. They now lean more toward roots music than they once did and have stepped away just a bit from the big production rock numbers. The rock is still there, mind you, but the band seems to feel more comfortable in a toned down setting. After listening, I think they stepped in the right direction, especially in today's world. Life has become more acoustic in the music world since 2006 and roots are what always drove the best music anyway, to my mind, so it wasn't a big step. Let us call it a slight adjustment. A very positive adjustment.
What do I hear when I listen? I hesitate to say this because, as is the norm, people will read the words and misread the content, but they play what I would think Peter, Paul & Mary might play if they were an up and coming group in this new century. Only let's call this combination Peter, Pauline & Mary in deference to the one male and two female voices. It is folk rock of a very high order, more Pop in places and more Folk in others. It is both high energy and low-fi. It is good and, in places, very very good. And it is solid. Production is topnotch, performance first-rate, and the writing very good, indeed. Not to mention the CD package. It is classy.
What Piefinger really comes down to here, though, as on the first album, is songwriting and voices. They have a unique sound and an intriguing approach to their music. I was enthralled with Where You Might Go years ago. I am becoming enthralled with A Countryman's Favour. It isn't hard. All it has taken is some time apart from the world, time during which I listened closely. Sometimes that is the difference between music and good music. Just a little time to listen. Life can be incredibly simple, don't you think? The best parts of it, that is.
Welcome back, Piefinger. I missed you.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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