The title of Anders Parker’s latest album, There’s a Blue Bird in My Heart borrows from Charles Bukowski’s poem “Bluebird”. This is not the first instance of Parker paying homage to the famed poet: on his 2009 double-concept album, Skyscraper Crow, “Horses Running Over the Hills” shares its title with a collection of Bukowski’s poetry called The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills. The closest thing to Bukowski on Blue Bird may be the chorus of the monolithic “Jackbooted Thugs” where Parker exclaims, “Jackbooted thugs have all the best drugs / All the best times I had on someone else’s dime.”
In the years since his last solo album, Parker released Cross Latitudes, an instrumental collection; recorded and toured behind an album of duets with Kendall Meade; and most notably contributed to New Multitudes, a collection of unreleased Woody Guthrie compositions brought to life by the quartet of Parker, Jim James, Will Johnson and Parker’s Gob Iron partner Jay Farrar.
Blue Bird finds Parker energized and plugged in, recalling his days fronting Varnaline. The shambolic opener, “The Road”, is a compartmentalized meandering through life’s choices and their resulting ups and downs. Both ebullient and agonizing, Parker recounts the division between youthful vigor and maturity for more than eight minutes, building tension through the sprawl. “Animal” extends the sonic dynamics, opening with an onomatopoeic guitar riff and lyrics that embrace psychologist Walter Bradford Cannon’s theory of fight or flight: “There is no way to really know / What you could do when pushed too far / Until your back is up against / Some wall and you are cornered.”
Parker toys with this tug of war between rage and restraint throughout Blue Bird, much like a boxer playing rope-a-dope on “Don’t Let the Darkness In”, a one-sided linguistic sparring match with a former love delivered in his velvet voice, or the plaintive love song “Unspoken” with its declaration of “Life’s tragic / But magic, too,” before surging into an apocalyptic coda.
The sequencing of the album mirrors this dichotomy; at first jarring but then cathartic, the militaristic drum beat of “Jackbooted Thugs” is compounded to a level that stops just short of a firing squad commencing its duty before segueing into the album’s closer, “See You On the Other Side”, a minute-long ditty plucked out on a ukulele with Parker cooing, “See you on the other side / Until then baby let’s enjoy the ride.” Immediately sparking visions of a hula-skirted bobblehead on a car dash, you then realize how Parker has shed any tension from the former with the latter. Or has he?
Looking ahead as much as looking back, Parker reflects on life’s little moments and its possibilities. Singing on the affirmative “Epic Life”, Parker proclaims, “Don’t want to disappear / Don’t want to die / Just want to have it all / In an epic life.” Constantly luring you in and pummeling expectations, There’s a Blue Bird in My Heart is packed with sucker punches and subtle jabs. Filled with sound and fury, no final blow is ever delivered, but, nonetheless, Parker has created a knockout.