Late last year Rolling Stone proclaimed Kentucky singer-songwriter Jeremy Pinnell one of their “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know,” and with good cause; his sophomore album Ties of Blood and Affection had been notching Sturgill Simpson comparisons along the lines of “no frills honky-rock with plenty of pedal steel, Western swing and vocals as smooth as the highest dollar whiskey” (as RS put it). And I didn’t need any convincing, not after having been already knocked out by Pinnell, so much so that BLURT premiered one of his tracks from the album.
Yet a decade or so before going solo, Pinnell was heading up The Light Wires, a pop/Americana-tilting indie-rock quartet whose lone self-titled album, in retrospect, clearly gave notice that this young man was a major talent. Now his label, Sofaburn, has reissued The Light Wires alongside the essentially unreleased (it was originally a 2008 private issue of 50 copies) second album, The Invisible Hand, as a double-LP pressed up as—vinyl freaks, alert!—a one-black wax/one-red wax, gatefold sleeved gem. (Seebelow.) Far from sounding like an artifact from the mid-aughts, this collection of Pinnell tunes is imbued with a certain timelessness that, another decade hence, fans will be eagerly out-nerding one another as they claim belated allegiance to this or that song. Backed by drummer Rick McCarty, guitarist Andy Hittle, and bassist/producer Mike Montgomery (also of Ampline and R. Ring), Pinnell sounds like a kid who grew up thumbing through an older sibling’s ‘60s and ‘70s albums and coming of musical age during the alt-rock and Americana explosions of the mid ‘90s, ultimately forging his own unique hybrid vision and forming a band.
Highlights are too many to list here, that’s for sure. “Talk To You Tonight,” from the first album, is a Whiskeytown-esque strummer with guitars and organ humming along behind Pinnell as he works through the regret of heartbreak in his yearning, Ryan Adams-meets-Eddie Vedder voice. Twangy midtempo country-rocker “Belly of the Beast,” also off the debut, with its irresistible titular chorus, is the proverbial coulda-shoulda been a radio hit. The Invisible Hand, likewise, is crammed with moments that, in a perfect world, might have been the stuff of arenas and thousands of hands thrust skyward. From Springsteenian opening track “Go On By” and the jangly majesty of “The Sinking Ship” (with a guest trumpeter, of all things), to luminous ballad “You Can Light” which gradually turns anthemic and, in turn, drop-dead-cathartic, and (speaking of anthemic) the Gin Blossoms-like “The Hum of Black Machines,” with its haunting lyrics about the abject loneliness of being cast aside and no longer loved, these are mature, full-formed compositions that have stood the test of time.
They’re also a fascinating glimpse behind the Pinnell curtain, essential postcards from the past that fans of his current work will cherish.