“Our waiting days are finally over,” the title track from Pert Near Sandstone’s new album decries, echoing the sentiment of a community recently pent up and beyond longing. What can develop from the turbulence of a still dwindling global pandemic and also respond to the noise of prattling politics? Art has its purpose in this exact hour.
It’s a strikingly different world than when Pert Near Sandstone first began nearly two decades ago near the sandstone river bluffs of St. Paul. The former latchkey kids who grew up together a few Mississippi-miles upstream have grown into a band of brothers, bonded together as family. By contrast to tik tocs, reels, and tweets in an ever-changing terrain that is digitally enhanced and quickly refreshed, this album was formed from the wilderness and carved from the heartwood.
Waiting Days has all the merit of maturity and the strengths of its four songwriters (all of whom are vocalists)—Justin Bruhn (bass), Kevin Kniebel (banjo), J Lenz (guitar), and Nate Sipe (mandolin, steel guitars, fiddle)—offering responses to each other’s compositions through a long camaraderie. Chris Forsberg, a more recent inclusion to the outfit, puts his fiddle stamp on the overall sound with turnbuckle solos and harmonious responses to the melodies. The album is set for independent release on October 20.
The interplay of mandolin and fiddle carry much of the music across the songs, but it’s the mixture of guest instrumentalists that gives this album a unique tapestry of sounds and texture, with accents of piano, trumpet, choral vocalists, steel guitar, and percussion. As longtime stewards of the modern stringband revival, their studio recordings have continuously pulled the genre toward a more contemporary perspective, meditating on the present and rich with reference. This isn’t music reaching for the banality of pop hits, instead they provide fresh air for blades of new grass to grow in.
Trampled By Turtles’ fiddler and original Pert Near member, Ryan Young, recorded and mixed the album—the fourth he has gifted his audio wizardry to— and added his fiddle and other accouterments to bolster the energy of the songs. The intimacy of collaboration is at the heart of this new project, which was recorded during several of the harshest weeks of a midwestern winter in Ryan’s NeonBrown Recording Studio in Crystal, Minnesota.
They released the first glimpse of the new tunes with “All Waves Break” as the album’s first single, which was premiered by JamBase who called the song “poignant.” Pert Near now offers another taste of what is in store with the full album with “I’ve Been Traveling,” which is out today on streaming outlets.
“I’ve Been Traveling,” “Soo Line,” and “On To Dawn” are traveling songs, sung by a band that has hit the pavement hard over their time, simultaneously creating a soundtrack for those all night drives that music festival devotees well know.
“Out of Time,” the album's heaviest hitting song, is a gazette of concerns that we face in troubled times. The explicit itemization is an alarm for movement; the singer’s vocals singe of desperation is motivation to confront the things most feared and to hold on to what is most dear. Lest we get lost in despair, we can find rejuvenation in one of the strongest songs, “All Waves Break,” which gestures with surrealism to offset the bleakness of a just-as-wacky reality.
In “Clouds Are Gathering,” the story and images reach into a field that isn't always aglow with sunlight, while finding beauty in the tenderness of relationships. In “Believe,” we are granted access to an inner world propelled by an almost symphonic string section. “Lay Down Your Burdens” has a simplicity that indeed helps us believe the genuine intentions of Pert Near Sandstone’s creative resolve.
“Who To Choose” gives permission to an indeterminate personality to decide their own path in this human condition. The railroad-laden album cover looks as though it could be an illustration, “End of The Line,” wherein a conversation between a hobo and railroad brakeman confront the possible obsolescence of their livelihoods. A distant whistle is heard as a token of hope with Sipe’s electric steel guitar sliding into the conversation with a nod to early country music.
Well known for their humor and levity, with charm that is never far from the surface, the connectedness to community is at the core of Pert Near’s music and philosophy. Nobody on earth is having a singular experience, as these songs shine a light upon. We are all here together. As the title track declares, “... I want to take you with me when I go.” Let’s get ready. Now is our time. The waiting days are over.
Pre-save Waiting Days on Spotify: https://show.co/kHU93US