A bearded man with a guitar slung on his back and a hard-drive tucked under his arm ambles along the two lane blacktops of the maple-thick Catskills. He drops in on musician friends, singing songs of love, longing, and full-hearted passion, tunes drawing on folk, funk and the enduring rock ’n’ roll spirit of the region. These friends–-stage and studio vets all–-help craft an album that’s warm as a wood stove, cool as a mountain stream, and rocking as a hailstorm on a tin roof. The man is Burnell Pines, aka singer-songwriter Jeremy Bernstein, and the album is Till the Day I Die, a valentine to life in the land where The Band, Van Morrison, and Bob Dylan once made seminal music. Burnell taps directly into that tradition with co-producer/drummer Justin Guip, Levon Helm’s three-time Grammy winning producer and right hand man. Other musical compadres include acclaimed keyboardist Marco Benevento, hitmaker Rachael Yamagata, and drummers Joe Magistro (The Black Crowes) and Robert Burke (Toshi Reagon).
About the name, Burnell Pines, which arose, like the music, from the soil: “I was clearing some pine boughs with a friend who calls me Burnell instead of Bernstein,” says Bernstein/Pines. “I had a bunch of brush under my arms, and he yelled, ‘Hey Burnell!’ and I said, ‘That’s Mr. Pines to you!’ And Burnell Pines just stuck. It felt right for this music.”
About that music: True to his nom de musique, Till the Day I Die is Burnell Pines’ ode to the Catskill Mountains and the rich self-sustaining, artistic tradition of the region: “I wanted to convey a sense of home,” he says. “And of traveling and returning to this legendary place.”
Burnell grew up in these hallowed hills, leading bands and working stages with folks as diverse as P-Funk and John Sebastian and his own band Stoney Clove Lane, moving ever closer to an original musical voice. In the rustic-yet-rocking Burnell Pines persona, he has found that voice. It bursts with civic pride in Till the Day I Die’s barn burning opener, “The Catskills Stole My Heart.” Burnell and co. take us along, skinny-dipping and laughing in the tall grass, name-checking Woodstock streets over a swampy groove. The tour continues with “Blue Skies Shelter Me,” an ode to the sheltering Hudson Valley skies, while “Set Your Mind Free” is a classic, fuzz bass-fueled anthem to letting go of inhibition; “Salutations,” the Bowie-meets-Crazy Horse celebration of friendship, could very well be the theme song for the making of Till the Day I Die: “Salutations and libations,” Burnell sings over a joyful noise, “love is everywhere!”
While this is Burnell’s sophomore release, Till the Day I Die is the first on which he fully comes into his own, vision and production-wise. His eponymous debut, a collaboration with keyboardist-songwriter David Baron (Lenny Kravitz), was Jeremy-as-Burnell getting his feet wet, stepping into his creation. With Till the Day I Die, he’s arrived, pledging his Catskill soul to music making, celebrating, and creating a soundtrack for a rock ’n’ roll life lived in the breast of Mother Nature.
“Till the Day I Die is much more me,” says Burnell with a satisfied smile. “I’m really taking the reins on this one.” And what a ride, with Mr. Pines in the saddle. Salutations and libations, indeed!