After having the absolute pleasure of reviewing his long-running band, Mandate of Heaven’s most recent work and anticipating their new release, Syracuse singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Greg Pier has released a solo outing, Three Bird Songs and Six More. Released on July 25, 2015, all songs were written, performed, recorded, and mixed by Greg Pier at Neon Witch Studio, from 2013-2015. As stated on his bandcamp page, “The songs on this demo are inspired by the countryside of Onondaga and Oneida counties in central New York.” He lists his Townes Van Zant and Lightning Hopkins as influences, I’ll add my thoughts to that at the end. As a listener that was only recently introduced to his band, this is completely new and unexpected ground, expectations are high.
The acoustic guitar, when well played is like listening to three parts, melody, bass and metronome. It has a percussive accent and bass line from the right thumb, melody from the right fingers, direction and foundation from the left. It tells a story for the voice to sing about. “Kitty Kills the Cardinal” is a striking example right out of the box. You can almost feel the wind under the wings come from Pier’s soft, but steady, right hand and his voice changes character fluidly as the multiple perspectives play out their versions of demise. Right into “Amber Eyes” with a bit of a bounce belying the topic, but there’s an energy of change, renewal and introspection underlying. With the mist of a tambourine interlaced, Pier’s voice softens with the nylon strings and speaks in a voice of knowing.
“Blue Jay Blues” is just that, Pier flexes skills, sounding right at home with the blues, walking blues that is. It’s the feeling of motion while talking to a friend, in this case telling a story to the only ears listening. Verbalization of dreams is often the best way to attain them, no matter who the audience may be. “Fields of White” is bassy and percussive, it yearns to find shelter and safety for a child of desolation, all the while knowing the end is impossible to avoid. “Easy to Say” is one of my favorite picking patterns, it’s strong and aggressively attacked with both hands. It’s youthful and staunch, yet the protagonist is learning lessons deeply and painfully. The brash use of his B and E strings close distinctly cold, as cold as the dismissed heart.
“Prison Creek” gets a bit Delta Blues, reflected through the tone and timbre of the finger pick, combine that with the doubled vocals and it gets eerie, fast. The voice has a tinge of spirit presence, apparition-like, but somewhat soothing, foretelling, maybe that’s the hook. When it doubles it feels like doom. Then “Paper World” is lilting and lost, but eloquently said. Analogizing a love cycle to a paper map that’s easily torn. The sylph harmony at the end is faint in its agreement.
“Red-Winged Blackbird’”takes a first person position as the ever observant red-wing, wings beating furiously, rising, drifting, voiced by the acoustic while the notes he takes smolder out. The multiple tracks thicken both words and notes adding a element of pace. The multiple voicing is used very sparingly throughout, but nicely here in the bridge. The closer, “Spring Ponies” is perfect in its delivery and ability to let the mind wander attempting definition. It’s more free than that with its bounce and bravado, its push start and heralded arrival of spring.
Pier reaches for a different foothold securely. His vocal expression mixed with the varying patterns on the acoustic combine in a superb way. Whether light or dark, blues or otherwise, he sings and plays in colors all his own. He creates motion as well as emotional imagery in a style that is very distinct. His phrasing is deft, his playing is nimble and strong, the subtlety of the mix is near immaculate. There are moments that conjure thoughts of George Harrison, Elliot Smith and Nick Drake, John Fahey, Sufjan Stevens. Likewise with breaths of acoustic delta blues players, Mississippi John Hurt and Elizabeth Cotton. Pier certainly pays respect to his strongest influences, I really dig that and my favorite musicians consistently do it. He’s more than capable of whatever he wants musically, I wonder if this acoustic work coincides with fatherhood.
Key Tracks: Kitty Kills The Cardinal, Prison Creek, Red-Winged Blackbird