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Jim and Jennie and the Pine Tops

Jim and Jennie and The Pine Barons – 1999 (Phovsho)

Reviewed by Jon Weisberger

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CDs by Jim and Jennie and the Pine Tops

Jim Krewson and Jennie Benford bring a lot of enthusiasm and some raw talent to a handful of original songs and some old standbys. Still, if they want (as their promo material suggests) to hit the bluegrass festival circuit - and, more importantly, live up to their stated "commitment to bluegrass purity" - the act has some ways to go before it's likely to find success.

Neither Jim nor Jennie is afraid to let loose on vocals; Krewson, in particular, often works at the top of his range on songs like the original "I've Lost My Prize," and to his credit, he does a good job of staying on pitch. Even so, the singing is frequently thin and strained. The high lonesome sound is an admirable goal to strive for, but not at the expense of power and tone. Similarly, while banjoist Brad Hutchison can knock out a serviceable version of Earl Scruggs' minor-key instrumental, "Nashville Blues" and show a solid roll on "Bowling Green," too much of the album finds him playing the awkward stop-start rhythm of a novice or simply rolling through the chord changes for a solo instead of playing the melody. Since he's no longer with the band, the less said about Chris DiPinto's fiddling the better.

In short, this is very much a first album; it remains to be seen whether the group will continue to develop their musicianship and mastery of bluegrass tradition. Bluegrass certainly needs more young musicians, and this act is not without talent. But they might have been better off honing their skills before making their recording debut.