[9 December 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
There are some fowl (groan) band names out there these days. From the rootsy Birds of Chicago to the punky Night Birds to the abstract Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk, putting a Bird in your band name seems to be the trendy thing to do. Well, in the case of the Barn Birds, it might have less to do with being of the times than a play on words: the group is comprised of vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Byrd (there’s the pun, and he’s not to be confused with this guy) and female vocalist/fiddler Chris Kokesh. The duo met at a song academy in Oregon, and after playing at a folk festival where the outfit was so popular that fans voted to bring them back the next year, the two holed up in a studio and knocked out the album up for discussion here in less than 10 hours.
What sets the Barn Birds apart is that they approach folk from the country-rock spectrum. With the careening presence of a fiddle and a lack of percussion of any kind, The Barn Birds is a remarkably mature and engrossing affair, one that sort of recalls the rootsier work of Canada’s Bruce Cockburn. The opening trifecta of songs (“We Used to Be Birds”, “Hazel Eyes” and “One Night At a Time”) are among the album’s strongest – with “Hazel Eyes” coming across as particularly haunting and mournful – but the rest of the LP is no slouch altogether. You might be inclined to think, given that the album was recorded live in one day, this is a rushed effort, but it comes across as raw and gritty with moments of crystalline beauty (“Desert Rose”). While the lack of drumming gives the album a rather same-y feel, there’s enough lulling lullabies to be heard here that have a passionate sense of old time-y conviction. Minutes spent with the debut from the Barn Birds are honest and endearing, and there’s not a hint of trying to be trendy to be found here – band name be damned. The only knock is that my CD copy promises two bonus tracks which aren’t actually found on the enclosed disc, and there’s no access code or coupon to obtain them online. So caveat emptor. Still, The Barn Birds is refreshing country-folk, and your bedtime record collection isn’t complete without it.