Birds of Play

REVIEW: Birds of Play “Birdsongs of the American West”


Birds of Play – Birdsongs of the American West

I love bands that appear as curiosities & this is one. The picture alone suggests what type of rural deep woodsy, rootsy music is to be found within. It also looks a little like it was taken more than 100 years ago – similar to a picture used on one of The Band’s albums where drummer Levon Helm is wearing a 10-gallon hat out in the middle of a field & the others look like migrant workers. Timeless photography.

This 48-minute LP sounds vintage except for the clarity of the vocals. Production-wise that should have been warmed up a bit, or maybe they should have used analog equipment & old microphones. The songs would have unfolded more genuinely. Nonetheless, the tunes are upbeat, almost as if they took some dusty melodies & used some Pledge to polish them up brightly. If so, they succeeded.

The set never meanders off into a croak. Scratchy record gimmicks. The pristine arrangements are authentically performed & damn if I don’t like this better than most modern-day songs. “Texture,” is almost the way The Band themselves wanted to sound but never risked getting too traditional or bluegrass. The music is like a plant with waxy bright leaves because someone’s taking care of it, nurturing it, watering it & loving it. Birds of Play loves what it does.

Produced by Birds of Play with assistance from David Brown (upright bass/bull fiddle) with the 11-themes recorded in Colorado at the Sherbino Theater. The approach is primarily varied serious impressions. But it’s the piquancy of the melodies that drive the impressive performances on their fourth LP Birdsongs of the American West (Drops Aug 25–Independent).

Everyone sings so the band is diversified. “Paradox of Choice,” has a very similar arrangement & sound of The Band – especially the late Richard Manuel who had a wonderfully rural soulful voice. Intonation & tonality-wise the singer of this tune also has generous deviations into the folky qualities of the late Scottish artist John Martyn. It’s quite beautiful the way they sew together their instruments with their vocalizations.

Many of the songs are played with old fashion flavor & lots of expertise. Having fun is not left out as displayed on “Animas.” Their balladry is well-performed as well. On “Linden & Oak,” the lead vocal of female musician Anneke Dean has wonderous soft shades similar to the band Lick the Tins’ Alison Marr. This is an excellent song.

Mixing a modern touch in tempo & hook line with traditional musical tones & acoustic picking comes on “Breathe.” A sprightly melancholic ballad that contrasts the previous tune nicely. Clever.

Musicians – Anneke Dean (violin/guitar/vocals), Eric Shedd (guitar/bass/mandolin/vocals), Alex Paul (guitar/bass/vocals) & Jack Tolan (mandolin/guitar/vocals).

Highlights – “Texture,” “Peace,” “Paradox of Choice,” “Linden & Oak,” “Breathe” & “Exhale.”

CD photography by Westslope Tintypes. CD @ CDBaby &

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