Birds of Play “Bird Songs of the American West”

Independent, 2023

The traditional string band updated for the 21st century, with contemplative words over a magical blend of instruments.

Birds of Play call themselves “an Americana Roots quartet based in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado”. A four-piece band featuring a mix of voices and instruments, Alex Paul on Guitar, Mandolin and Vocals; Eric Shedd on bass, Mandolin, Guitar and Vocals; Anneke Dean on Violin and Vocals and Jake Tolan on Guitar, Mandolin and Vocals.

Without much information about who plays what on which tune, I can’t tell you who the fine baritone vocal on opening song ‘Texture’ is, but it’s good. Having great words to sing helps, and ‘Texture‘ has those in abundance: “If texture is the language of time. River-carved canyons speak in eloquent rhyme. Rainfall the choir of a world intertwined. This land suggests something divine”

This contemplative mood is maintained in the single ‘Aftermath,’ of which the writer says: “Aftermath was written during a week-long quarantine over Thanksgiving weekend of 2021. Instead of celebrating our gratitude (and my birthday) with our families, my wife and I were holed up in a little cabin in the Redwoods of northern California feeling awfully sorry for ourselves and really missing our people. I was imagining a time in the hopefully not too distant future that we would all be able to comfortably and excitedly gather together and rejoice”. The song is far more upbeat than that makes it sound and the violin solo towards the end is a joyful thing.

Numbers and Names’ is a slower song and has a slightly Grateful Dead feel about the harmonies.   ‘On the Eve of Adam’s Redress’ is another ballad and highlights one of the strengths of Birds Of Play’s music. Where ‘Numbers and Names’ is quite “folky” in feel, this is quite different and almost impossible to categorise. Bowed Bass, and violin contrast with the Mandolin and guitar to give a unique flavour to this tune. The violin playing is exceptional.

There is a lovely warm, homespun feel to the recording of tunes like ‘Paradox of Choice’ which also features a bit of electric guitar. The instrumental ‘Linden and Oak’ shows off the considerable skills of the whole band. ‘Stargazer’ is a vocal feature for Anneke Dean and suggests she should sing more as her voice a clear, pure delight. Think a Cara Dillon from the Midwest. It’s also the first part of a trio of the best songs featured here to round off the album. ‘Breathe’ has more of a mid-tempo feel than some of the latter half of the album and would make another great single. Exhale’ starts on a mandolin and fiddle with some interesting effects from the Bass.

The change of pace, singer, and emphasis on different instruments across the 11 songs keeps the sound fresh throughout the album. With a broad palette of sounds to draw on Birds of Play have produced an album that adds a new dimension to the traditional string band.


About Tim Martin 247 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.
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