Music

The Mastersons: Birds Fly South

Pure, heartfelt Americana from a pair of ace Americana artists.


The Mastersons

Birds Fly South

Label: New West
US Release Date: 2012-04-10
UK Release Date: 2012-04-11
Label website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

There have been many famous familial conglomerations over the years in popular music, particularly in the genres of country and R&B, where names like Carter, Louvin, Jackson, and Ike & Tina need no introduction. The shared communal joys and passions for music flowed naturally through these families as they all grew up and matriculated in households where records were constantly spun and instruments and songbooks were passed around like gravy at the Thanksgiving table. Traditionally, there has been another plentiful subset of these “family bands” in the form of the husband and wife duo, in some cases pared down as simply a man/woman pair who may or may not be romantically involved. The names here also need no introduction as George and Tammy, Kenny and Dolly, Jack and Meg, and She and Him stand out over other worthy yet lesser-known contributors like Jenny and Johnny, the Civil Wars, the Rosebuds, and Mates of State. Record labels, managers, and the artists themselves seem to be recognizing the revamped appeal of these duos as the music industry has seen an explosion in popularity within this duo genre. Along these lines come the Mastersons, the very much married (despite the joint band surname) pair of Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore.

Those with a keen eye for liner notes will surely recognize these two performers. Masterson has logged time as a guitarist with Son Volt, Jack Ingram, and Bobby Bare, Jr., while Whitmore, over the years, has worked alongside such luminaries as Regina Spektor, Kelly Willis, and Diana Ross (!). As a duo, The Mastersons are best known as being part of Steve Earle’s Dukes and Duchesses, the highly skilled group of backing musicians he assembled for last year’s I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive tour. Each night, Earle relinquished a portion of the spotlight for Chris and Eleanor to do a few numbers, a gesture that not only increased their exposure, but also helped formulate future musical ideas, which are now seeing the light of day. Following the conclusion of that tour, Chris and Eleanor returned to their Brooklyn home, but ventured back to their original home in The Lone Star State to work and collaborate for the first time together on a full-length album.

Their debut release, Birds Fly South released on New West Records, features an 11-track showcase of gently appealing Americana, full of bright and sunny melodies, impeccable harmonizing, and versatile lyrics that run the full emotional spectrum, from the dire warnings of hard living in “Money”, to the aching appeal of giving in to vice and temptation in the swinging and catchy “No Dancing”, to the lilting and lovely ode to the pulls of home in the album-closing title track. The Mastersons eschew the obvious tendency to sing about their love for one another and instead reveal their mutual commitment in lyricism that reflects the day-to-day happenings that all couples must traverse over the course of a relationship. While marriage is a beautiful and sacred vow, the details of daily life can get in the way and provide roadblocks to that perfect “happily ever after” life that is so often promised during the wedding ceremony. This sentiment is perfectly captured in the album’s opening lines, where Eleanor exults: “The twitch in my left eye / Came back today…I just can’t find the time / To do what’s expected / And I wouldn’t anyway." It’s that feeling of resignation that sometimes accompanies a long-term romantic commitment. You’re in love and happy, but what comes next? Should the narrator of the song accept tradition and proceed with the next steps or should she pack up and move on and start a new, non-traditional path forged by her wanderlust and hopes for adventure? It’s not an easy question to answer, but it is one worth pursuing, something that country musicians have been picking at for decades.

The sentiment expressed in the opening track sets the tone for the rest of Birds Fly South. The protagonists of these songs consider running away but they also fight for love, (the straight ahead rock cruncher, “Crash Test”), use love to ignore bad times incurred (“The Other Shoe”) where Masterson proclaims “there’s one thing I know is true / I’m gonna run away with you”, and show how love can be taken for granted (the affecting ballad “Time”). The couple veers away from schmaltzy sentimentality and instead paints a picture of real life. It is more jarring at times to listen to a couple admitting faults and doubts, but the end result is much more fulfilling than tired and clichéd platitudes and frivolous declarations. In this regard, the Mastersons debut effort is a rousing success, and one that should vault their careers out of the shadows and into an even bigger limelight than the one extended to them so graciously by Mr. Earle.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.