Birds of Chicago release Love in Wartime

Photo by Yves Assad

Birds of Chicago have been riding a swell of good mojo in the Americana scene since their inception in late 2012. With their new album, Love in Wartime, they are set to both confirm that roots world buzz, and break on through to a much wider audience.

Recorded in Chicago against a backdrop of bewilderment, deep divide and dread, Love in Wartime is a rock and roll suite with a cinematic sweep. Co-produced with Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), it evokes epic efforts of the 60’s and 70’s, with love as the undeniable through-line.

Built around the chemistry and fire between Allison Russell and JT Nero, and their rock-steady band, BOC tours hard. Russell and Nero played with different bands in the mid-aughts (Po’ Girl and JT and the Clouds) before finding their way to each other. Nero, who writes the bulk of the songs, found himself a transcendent vocal muse in Russell (a powerful writer herself), and the band honed its chops on the road, playing 200 shows a year between 2013-17. All that shaping and sharpening, over so many miles, led them back to Chicago’s Electrical Audio in January of 2017, to begin recording Love in Wartime.

“Any act of love is an act of bravery,” says Russell. “We want to give people some good news. And we want them to be able to dance when they hear it.”

Their most recent releases include 2016’s Joe Henry-produced Real Midnight and 2017’s EP American Flowers, BOC’s debut from the label Signature Sounds Recordings. Critics have searched for the right words to describe Real Midnight’s deep lyricism, gut-punch singing and musicality. “Secular gospel” was one phrase that caught some traction. That fervour is evident in Love in Wartime as well: “Roll Away the heavy stone/roll away the heavy hours/roll on in the summer moon/who’s alive who’s alive who’s alive?” The invitation is joyous, but urgent. There’s another phrase that they used to describe poetry intoned over roots music mash-ups: Rock n Roll. The Birds consider themselves a rock and roll band first and foremost, and Love in Wartime doesn’t leave any doubt about that.

Birds’ shows attract a mix of indie rockers, jam-kids and Americana/roots lovers, mixing moments of hushed attention with wild, rock and soul abandon.

Says Nero, “a good show can send you back out into the night feeling – for at least a little while – that everything isn’t broken.”

These days, that’s no small thing.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artist Web Links:

www.birdsofchicago.com
www.facebook.com/BirdsofChicago.Official
www.twitter.com/@jtandalli

BIRDS OF CHICAGO – Live From Space (Self Released)

birdsWith only one previous album to your name, it may seem a little premature to follow up with a live recording. However, this is a bit different. For a start, of the 17 tracks, only four of the songs appear on the debut, so, to all intents and purposes, it’s an album of new material. Well, sort of. Between them, six are drawn from either JT Nero’s previous albums or Allison Russell’s Po’Girl  recordings, two of them, ‘Mountains/Forests’ and  ‘North Star’, previously appearing on the 2010  JT Nero and the Clouds album on which Russell collaborated.  It also marks the second time Russell’s sung ‘Til It’s Gone’ and ‘Prairie Lullaby’ on a live album. Even so, as far as I can tell, that still leaves five previously unrecorded numbers, as well as the ones they’ve not previously performed together. Got that?

Whatever the reasons for the live format (and economics may have had as much to do with it as capturing them in full flow), the result’s what counts and, joined here by a full band (basically, The Clouds), while it may have been recorded in front of a home crowd in the titular Evanston, Illinois club rather than in actual, you know, space, it’s still out of this world.

The set opens with one of those new numbers, Russell taking centre stage for her self-penned gospel, ‘Barley’, a brief piano intro giving way to  hand-clap and kick drum accompaniment, before kicking into another new track, Nero’s upbeat alt-country rocking ‘All The City Girls’, he on drawled lead, she providing soaring joyous back-ups. The pace shifts again for the soulful ballad ‘I Have Heard Words’ off Caledonia, turning it into a duet and adding  Russell’s melancholic clarinet and providing an early highlight.

From here it’s into a clutch of familiar favourites, the train-chugging shuffle of ‘Sugar Dumplin’’, Russell on uke and singing in French for the Cajun ‘Sans Souci’, jazzy-blues piano and clarinet snaking a gospel tinted ‘Prairie Lullaby’ and, hewing close to the crystal waters feel of the studio original, ‘Mountains/Forests’. That’s certainly not true of ‘Kathy’, the Russell-penned song from Po’ Girl’s Follow Your Bliss album, here transformed from lightly brushed, banjo accompanied folk into piano backed country soul as her voice soars.

I could enumerate the rest of the album track by track, but I reckon you get the picture by now, so I’ll just say the set list also includes ‘Cannonball’, ‘Sparrow’, ‘Funeral’, ‘Nobody Wants To Be Alone’, ‘Nobody Wants To Die’, ‘North Star’, ‘Fever Dream’, a surging take on ‘Trampoline’ and the all-new ‘Firespitter’, starting out like a crooned folk number before transforming into an organ and piano driven bluesy boogie swagger that must have had the floor writhing with shaking hips.

They end as they began, in striking form with a revamp of  the Southern gospel coloured ‘‘Til It’s Gone’, Russell singing over jazzed piano and drum before taking up clarinet and Nero weighs in on harmonies and guitar solo. The last thing you hear over the applause is Russell saying thank you to the crowd. No, thank you.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist website: www.birdsofchicago.com

Birds of Chicago (JT Nero & Allison Russell) debut self-titled album is now released…

Birds of Chicago, a collective based around the collaboration between JT Nero (JT and the Clouds) and Allison Russell (Po’ Girl), released their self-titled debut album on January 28.

Birds of Chicago built a buzz for this album with a summer’s worth of memorable turns at festivals across the US and Canada, including High Sierra, Strawberry Music Festival, Kerrville, Delfest, Hillside (Ontario), American River Music Festival, Thirsty Ear, Joshua Tree, Pickamania, Taste of Chicago and more. They capped their summer with a performance on the influential live radio program, eTown, where they were dubbed the “dynamic duo” by hosts, Nick and Helen Forster.

The Birds band actually formed on Nero’s last solo record, Mountains/Forests. That album, a critic’s favourite in 2011, featured Nero and Russell singing together for an entire album for the first time, and minted what would become the Birds of Chicago sound.

Russell’s clarion voice wraps up Nero’s broken-soul country croon in silver and gold tones, underpinned by the elastic, simmering grooves of the family band (all JT and the Clouds veterans). The sound feels familiar, but resistant to pigeonholing – somehow joyful and haunted at the same time.

The album’s first two singles, ‘Trampoline’ and ‘Cannonball’, highlight the band’s effortless gumboing of rock ‘n’ roll, soul and old country, while Nero’s lyrics place him in line with American impressionists like Paul Simon and Robert Hunter.

Birds of Chicago shows feature an unlikely quilting of folks – jam band kids rub shoulders with riot girls and more seasoned NPRish types. A new video for another cut from the album, ‘Moonglow Tapeworm’, captures their pied piper effect at a Chicago speakeasy… nobody’s a stranger, it seems, to the Birds of Chicago cocktail of hope, mystery, melancholy and groove.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist web link: www.birdsofchicago.com

Much-loved Canadian folk roots combo Po’ Girl

The beauty and mystery of Po’ Girl’s music – a sound that has beguiled fans the world over – springs from the mesmerizing bond shared by its two lead singers and writers – Allison Russell and Awna Teixeira.

Hailing from Montreal and Toronto respectively, both women left untenable home situations at fourteen, found music instead of bad ends, and lived to sing the tales. The interplay between these two stunning performers is truly something to behold. You’ll hear echoes of speakeasy jazz, the western lament, the accordion-strapped ghosts of European folk accompanied by the wail of the clarinet in the music of Po’ Girl, but it’s delivered with a soulful clarity and depth that makes it all their own.

It seems almost silly – and not very interesting – to trot out a long, endlessly hyphenated list of the many influences coursing through Po Girl’s music. Suffice to say it’s 21st Century roots music – North Americana if you will – never derivative, not faithfully aping a beloved tradition. Teixeira and Russell don’t re-hash the old forms, they reshape and reinvigorate them for new ears.

Since Po’ Girl’s birth in Vancouver, BC in 2003, Russell and Teixeira (and an ever revolving cast of stellar musical friends), have averaged over 250 days a year on the road, bringing their inimitable roots revelry to 13 countries and 4 continents and winning over new fans and friends everywhere they go. With 5 internationally critically acclaimed studio albums, a live album, a b-sides album, and a DVD to their credit with Po’ Girl, Alli and Awna have firmly established themselves as two dynamic, compelling songwriter/singer/multi-instrumentalists with true staying power.

2012 sees them both exploring more facets of their artistry with some exciting new projects. Awna is getting ready to record her first solo album for release later this year. She’s also working on a companion volume to her first book – A Brief History and Introduction to the Gutbucket Bass and a new series of Children’s Books, for more information visit www.hazytales.me

Alli has teamed up with Chicago songsmith JT Nero (of JT and the Clouds) and is currently working on their debut duo record Birds of Chicago to be released in this summer/fall for more information visit http://birdsofchicago.com/

She’s also involved in a recording project called Sankofa whose album The Uptown Strut (Kingswood Records) which also features John Sebastian (The Lovin’ Spoonful), Dom Flemons (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Ndidi Onukwulu, Sule Greg Wilson, and Professor Louie (The Band) is released in the US on March 27th.

Po’ Girl will be doing one tour and one tour only in 2012 , March 21st through April 14th in the Netherlands and the UK, joined by Mikey ‘Lightning’ August on drums and Chris Merrill on bass. These are the only scheduled Po’ Girl shows this year, in order for Alli and Awna to have time to record, release, and tour their new albums. They’ll be working on the songs for the next Po’ Girl record and making guest appearances on each other’s new projects too – you can expect a new Po’ Girl album down the line in early 2014.

Genuine gypsies, these two wander and play. They move and move and play and sing. It’s quite simple. Always restless, more often than not bone-tired, they write their flashes of sadness, their loss, their good love, their hope, their dreams of home into songs that matter deeply to them. Like any good art, they are little acts of self-rescue. So you should listen. You aren’t much different from them, and who couldn’t use a little rescuing these days?

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.