HGR CD Review: Pure Cane Sugar

PURE CANE SUGAR – LIVE AT THE STATE THEATRE (no label) State College’s Pure Cane Sugar quickly forged an identity based on captivating folk-rock arrangements and exceptional two- and three-part vocal harmonies; and drove those qualities home convincingly on their 2010 debut studio CD, Come Back Home. But anybody who has seen this group onstage can attest that their live show delivers even more convincing magic, and Pure Cane Sugar captured that magic during a special concert at State College’s State Theatre on April 10, 2013. Through 15 tracks, Live at the State Theatre documents that night, and displays Pure Cane Sugar in their full glory. Spirited, soulful lead vocals and delicious vocal harmonies from Natalie Race, guitarist Kate Twoey and percussionist/pianist Molly Countermine are constant; making this disc a must for any fans of female voices in unison. But arrangements and musicianship are also big highlights here, as the ladies and bandmates Daryl Branford on drums and Jason “Junior” Tutwiler on guitar weave captivating arrangements on their Americana-geared original songs, plus offer inventive updates on a number of time-tested classics. The group breathes extra life into songs from Come Back Home such as “No Regard” and the funky update of “My Favorite Song,” and introduce exciting new numbers such as “Alone Again,” the punchy “Gimme Some of the Good Stuff,” the driving “Leg Up,” “Ghost of You and Me,” “Let it Ride” and “Breathe.” The group gives a makeover to “Babblefish,” a song Countermine wrote and previously recorded with Maxwell Strait. And Pure Cane Sugar stamps their signature on several familiar classics, offering innovative takes on Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Gillian Welch’s “Scarlet Town,” Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider” and Stephen Stills’ (Buffalo Springfield’s) “For What It’s Worth.” Fleshing out the arrangements and giving extra musical spice to them are a number of special guests, including Daniel Collins on fiddle, Jason McIntyre on guitar and mandolin, Corry Drake on bass, Cory Neidig (Grain) on banjo, James Harton (Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats) on keys, and Dave Staab on bongos. The performances are strong throughout, as Pure Cane Sugar gave it all to the audience on this special night, and the audience’s responses seal the deal with immediate and strong applause. Recorded by Curtis Craig, and mixed and mastered by Bill Filer at Audible Images Recording, Live at the State Theatre sounds clear and balanced, and as pristine as live performance recordings are likely to sound. Live at the State Theatre not only captures the essence of what Pure Cane Sugar’s live performance is all about, but also serves to alert listeners to what a special entity this group has become. This disc is the next best thing to actually attending a Pure Cane Sugar live performance. (The CD is available at shows, or through CDBaby, www.cdbaby.com.)