Flyinshoes Review

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Birds Of Chicago’s eagerly awaited follow-up to their debut record Trampoline is everything anticipated and more, Allison Russell’s amazing vocals combined with the superbly crafted tones of JT (Nero) as in JT & The Clouds see the unit once again rise to great heights. Produced by Joe Henry (Emmylou Harris, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rodney Crowell, Solomon Burke, Bettye Lavette and others), and recorded at his Garfield House Studio in LA the quality of tone, vocal harmonies and arrangements are of a kind where once the listener taps into the muse of BOC they will be hooked. To inevitably place their music on at the top of their cd stack. Mostly, the album is of a mellow, a little melancholy but awash in so much beauty and grace, and bursts of adventure. Like shooting stars there are occasions their voices become collide and sparks fly, so beautifully are they entwined, magic beyond words and much excitement exude freely throughout.


All 11-tracks are written by Nero and Russell, and in traditional sounding and rousing stripped bare “Barley” you have a song that could just as easily come from 100 years ago such its spare near a cappella authenticity. Utterly gorgeous. Fans of Russell in the purest form will especially love this (and the rest of the album....) as she pleads for the wind that shakes the barley to likewise shake her.  


Their honesty coupled with the Nero’s guile as vocalist, lead and accompanist ensure every note and lyric count for the listener be drawn like a moth to the flame to the action. Accompaniment ranges included guitar, piano, banjo, steel guitar, bass, drums and percussion to go with voice that sees them peak on such songs as “Remember Wild Horses as some of the greatest joy of the album unfurls; on joining Russell’s lead vocals a minute or so into the song JT sparks one of those magic, ever to be treasured moments. Not to be missed songs are non-stop and especially strong during the opening half of the record as you have “Kinderspel (child’s Game)”, and with undulating joy leaping from ever corner “Estrella Goodbye” hits a spot way above most artists can imagine. Their voices are inseparable and general performance of the duo is quite breathtaking as caution is thrown to the wind. I also love the effective use of piano and banjo in the background to go with their fervent full-on vocal effort. It’s like as if the best voices of soul, gospel and pop are beautifully orchestrated by them to the musical arrangements of producer Henry!


You also have teasing love ballad “Real Midnight”, forever sliding different hues across the mind of the listener as steel guitar, keyboards, piano and guitars are featured. Russell hits one of her many highs on her beautiful singing of “Color Of Love”. JT isn’t to be overshadowed either, because apart from his seamless combinations with Russell, where it is like she rides on top of his voice; as for his work he stars on “Time And Times” and with claw-hammer banjo guiding Russell on the stark opening of  “Sparrow” is graceful, calming and beautifully poignant. “Pelicans” rounds off the record on a high as to some finger picking as JT opens the song as he speaks of being a pelican in the eye of a hurricane.   With sweet harmonies draped all over it the listener can’t help but be taken by the wonderful harmonious feel of their music.   


Maurice Hope 

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