The Midnight Pine’s album Awake Now takes the lyrics from Al Howard (The Heavy Guilt, The Black Sands) and uses them to create a sparse backdrop for the ethereal musings of lead singer Shelbi Bennett. Bennett’s soft spoken vocals are sensual and innocent, drifting through generations of sounds with absolutely no shtick or pretension. Although only 21 years old, Bennett’s voice carries a timeless quality in its delivery and performance that reaches into distinctive eras and captivates the ear upon first listen.
The 11 tracks on Awake Now are made up of mostly soft, rustic acoustic music with stream of consciousness lyrics that allow Bennett’s vocal to wander off in an otherworldly swirl. From the gentle stroll of the acoustic guitar on the opener “Stolen Wind” to the catchy melody and yearning vocal on “Away” to the slightly tweaked tempo bounce of “Time,” the lead singer’s vocal is captivating. By the fourth track “Siren,” a subtle momentum has been simmering and the ache in Bennett’s vocal, rubbed up against the poetry of the lyrics, creates the album’s stand out track. “Siren” ends abruptly, like a snap of the fingers, bringing you back from wherever your mind might have pleasantly drifted off.
But to say the record is all about Bennett’s vocal would be a one-sided gesture. There is a musical component going on Awake Now that is full of simplistic yet engaging compositions. The band is made up of Howard’s cohorts from The Heavy Guilt and The Black Sands. It features Howard on percussion (though no drums on the record), Tim Felten and Josh Rice on keys, Sean Martin on guitar, and Jason Littlefield on bass. A few local guests also pop up on the recording, nicely filling out the tracks’ sounds. Guests include Aaron Brownwood on dobro, Dustin Lothspeich on vocal and guitar, and Chris Davies on guitar and bass. The music they create builds an engaging landscape that lends itself to the haunting mood of this record. The music never overpowers the mix; instead it swirls around in the background, allowing the vocals enough room to breathe while quietly blowing up and down the alleyways of these tunes.
Hard to believe a record with this much depth came together out of a chance meeting in the OB record store COW where Al Howard works.
“I met Shelbi at the record store a few months ago. As per most record store conversations, we spoke of music. Found out she sang and we started working on a record in two weeks,” explained Howard. A swift collaboration followed and within two months, the album was recorded.
The unforced, organic coming together of the talents, with nothing sounding over produced or forced, is evident on Awake Now, leaving you to wonder if it was just lightning in a bottle or if The Midnight Pine is something to be reckoned with.