Sam Kempe knows persistence. The Atlanta-based songwriter has had a career of ups and downs, like most folks, but finds fuel in the process. With each success and failure come emotions, some new, some common, followed by mental notes. The celebration nor the despair should last too long, for there is more work to be done. Pinewood is the passion project of Kempe, one that has fluid definition and and serves as an outlet. The musician was born and raised on the sweet sounds of folk and bluegrass music, spent his teens playing electric guitars through loud amps in indie-rock bands, and settled down in his 20s into the world of folk music. Pinewood was formally launched in 2020 with the release of singles, In Our Residency and Rose Gold. Kempe's plans of hitting the road hard in 2020 to perform his new songs and promote future releases were brought to a halt by the Covid-19 pandemic, and he spent his time in his home studio creating 2 more EPs to release that same year, All Things with Symmetry and Carolina Daydream. While Pinewood's recorded sound features spacey ambience, percussion, banjo, string and synth elements, he keeps his live performance organic to the songwriting process. Songs are performed solo on acoustic guitar, the way they are written, and Kempe relies on the natural dynamics of the songs to portray the builds and releases in the way that the additional elements do on his records. The songwriter uses these tools and his lyrics to take the listener along through the story, to feel what he felt, see what he saw, and find resolve in life's mystery.
The Southern Sounding: "Track Premiere: Pinewood - 'Riverbank'"
"Driven by a need to know both the dark and light sides of life, he has used his work as a way to better explain and explore the recesses of his own past. And by not shying away from these shadows but embracing them as useful tools for internal reflection, his music contains an emotional clarity that’s hard to shake and seeps down into the deeper parts of your subconscious. Kempe will self-release his debut EP, “All Things With Symmetry,” on May 1.
On new single, “Riverbank,” he crafts an atmospheric folk landscape covered in spectral voices, plucked strings and a sense of rhythmic mystery. There’s a folksiness to the proceedings, though it’s not developed in a way that recalls any sense of rote familiarity. The acoustic arrangements seem to linger, jubilant ghosts on the edge of your periphery while the drums shuffle and dance in the flickering light of a nearby fire. Kempe has built a doorway, a mist-covered entrance spilling over with capricious musical movements which resemble sounds you think you’ve heard before but, upon closer inspection, is absolutely unique in its approach and aesthetic. But there is a lightness here as well, a counter balance to his acceptance of life’s darker instincts, and it’s here in that cloaked emotional environment where the music stirs the soul and bruises the heart."
The Revue: "The Matinee '20 April 15"
“Onward” is more than a dream-folk song; it’s a calming respite from the outside world. The instrumentation alone is enough to reset your stress levels. The soft banjo evokes springtime vitality and complements the lyrical reference of changing seasons. But the vocals here are the real standout, full of sun-kissed warmth. Fans of Bon Iver, Lord Huron, and Kishi Bashi will likely fall hard for Pinewood. His music shares their artistic complexity while also nourishing all who listen.
Americana UK - "Pinewood 'All Things with Symmetry'
‘Riverbank’ starts with looping strings to which Kempe adds light rhythm. This flow gathers momentum around his haunting vocals that thunder into a series of glorious synthesised crescendos.
From flowing water Kempe turns his gaze and reflection upwards. As its title suggests ‘Constellations’ is the sonic equivalent of looking at distant specks of light. The banjo line keeps the feet on the ground while his voice echoes into space. More dramatic synthesised ebbs and flows appear a characteristic of Kempe as well as a reminder of his originality.
Perhaps these first two meditations explain the confident cascade of ‘Onward’, a multi-dimensional soundscape. A line from the title track “let my mind run free with existential dread” reveals that despite finding light Kempe knows he could plunge back into darkness anytime. The spectral voice and almost halting feel magnify that fragility.
‘All Things with Symmetry’ is a beautiful creation, the musical equivalent of a deep meditative practice. May more be forthcoming very soon.
Ear To The Ground Music: Eight New Folk and Singer-Songwriter Tunes
The blend of good sound engineering and brilliant songwriting have created one of the best folk tunes I’ve heard in 2020. Pinewood have a sound that I rarely hear; it’s atmospheric and transcendent while feeling rooted. I always think of banjos as being “of the earth,” but the reverb (I think?) that makes me feel like I’m hearing this in a big ampitheater makes for a perfect combination. The earthy, literary lyricism reminds me of college lit classes. It’s a blend of influences that makes for a beautiful alchemy.