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It's perhaps appropriate that this week's entry in the column is one that occurs shortly after Levon Helm's passing, if only because the shadow of the Band and its retooling of roots music for a gentle grandeur has been hanging so heavy over a lot of 21st century American music that it's almost oppressive. Not that we're complaining about the Band or Helm or anything like that — hey, there's a reason why people are mourning — but the fact that nobody's come close to that synthesis or extended it yet is pretty inescapable. (Personal bias would be for the Walkabouts, but alas they're not local).
So, Southern Pines, the solo debut by one Cory Bishop — who admittedly is more of a relocated local, formerly Irvine where he led a band through high school, now based in Nashville — is another example of a performer who consciously or not works within that example set to a large, if not complete, degree. As such, he tends towards the melancholy side of it, pleasantly if often too familiarly, taking an approach with quietly reflective vocals and lyrical ruminations that may come across more Bon Iver than Bob Dylan on songs like “Love or Whatever” and “Death at My Door.”
But in turn that makes the switch-up on a number of songs such an unexpected surprise — when “Dear Savannah” appears, everything's much tighter and sprightlier, from the singing to the performance to the overall feeling, a switching out of the Band for R.E.M. as a source point. “Please Be True Lorelei” is another winner there (though the explicit Dylan reference is a bit of a terrible pun), and songs like “Me Against Us” and “In Search of a Better Man” are similarly inclined at points. So there's more going than might be guessed on first impression, but still a long way to go to make a clearer mark.
Order Southern Pines via iTunes or Amazon.