Friends, Foes, Kith and Kin, the second album recorded by James Diotte under the Between the Pine moniker, is an exercise in mood, with the pervasive feeling being contemplative sobriety. The album logs in at a lean thirty-eight minutes but nevertheless feels expansive, as Diotte utilizes a variety of instruments, found sounds, and help from a variety of guests, including wife Robin Toste, to create a full narrative landscape. Friends, Foes, Kith and Kin is dense, ambiguous and sometimes unsettling, lovingly constructed and haunted by Diotte’s presence.
As with his debut, Diotte is unquestionably the main presence on the album. His voice, which he describes aptly as a “splinter” gives his music its point of view. After a brief instrumental introduction on “Clarinets,” Diotte appears on “People We Were Before.” His vocal delivery is not typical or easily accessible; the first couple of listens sound as if Smeagle landed a recording contract. As one song bleeds into another and one listen follows the next, a simple truth is revealed about Friends, Foes, Kith and Kin. Diotte is well aware that, even though he might be working with a limited instrument, he can use it to good effect in creating the mood he wants on his songs.
When his vocals are considered just another part of the larger picture, Friends, Foes, Kith and Kin emerges as a creation that achieves its beauty and purpose from the fact that it arises from imperfect pieces. Diotte’s vocals, a repeated banjo or recorder line, and even seemingly missed notes at the end of a song bleed into one another, even from song to song to fortify the dreamy, disconnected environment that is the album’s most compelling aspect. Between the Pine is definitely an acquired taste, but Diotte’s careful work is the type of art that repays investment on the part of the listener.