Peter Willie Youngtree has been a fixture in the St. John’s country-folk scene for several years now, building a steady following of fans along the way, and earning himself Music NL’s 2016 Country Recording of the Year award for his 2015 debut Country Hymns.
This November he returns with a new band, and a new release entitled Musical Chairs under the moniker Youngtree and The Blooms. With producer Chris Kirby at the helm, and a host of talented local musicians including Carole Bestvater, Darren Browne, Chuck Boyd, and Joe Tucker, Musical Chairs largely picks up where Youngtree’s self-produced Country Hymns left off.
Listening to Musical Chairs, it’s clear that Youngtree is a songwriter interested in continuing to push himself forward. Musically, the new album takes bigger risks and explores broader themes, with death and mortality featuring prominently on Musical Chairs.
On songs like “Hilltops of Blowing Heather” and “Ten Million Ways,” it’s also clear Youngtree is drawn to lavish country folk wordsmiths like Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Dylan. Just as present on songs like “Dirt Party” are country western artists like Billy Joe Shaver, who strip music back to its country core by saying plenty with only a few words.
The 9 songs on Musical Chairs cover a lot of ground stylistically and lyrically, but in some ways, the album feels like a study in contradictions. Youngtree has chosen to carve out his place in a genre of music that is, by design, not an easy one for young songwriters: it’s retrospective, and probably even a little retrograde insofar as it holds up “hard-living” men as its heroes. While Youngtree explores both the manic country poet, and stoic cowboy personas with confidence and ease, he’s ultimately a relatively young contemporary songwriter balancing life experience against larger than life personas of yesteryear.
On songs like “She Found Me,” “Why Didn’t You?,” and “Living in the Dark,” Youngtree channels an alt-country rock sound reminiscent of more contemporary artists like Ryan Adams. This is where Youngtree’s voice and lyrics are at their strongest, and naturally convey the most emotion and authority.
Despite the different styles and distinctions, the songs on Musical Chairs feel cohesive and part of a larger vision. Chris Kirby’s production on Musical Chairs is obviously central to this, but Carole Bestvater’s consistent, standout backup vocals are pivotal to this cohesiveness as well. Bestvater’s presence on the bulk of the album further serves to balance some of the inherent bravado at play in the country poet, and stoic cowboy presonas.
Youngtree and The Blooms’ Musical Chairs is a natural and compelling progression from Peter Willie Youngtree’s solo album Country Hymns, and it will definitely be interesting to watch him continue to expand his musical sound and catalogue of experiences down the road. Standout tracks: “She Found Me” & “Why Didn’t You?”
Youngtree and The Blooms will release Musical Chairs tonight at The Ship.