Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Birds of Chicago Summon Traditional Americana with Global Influences on ‘Love in Wartime’

Finding inspiration from the act of love, Birds of Chicago's Love in Wartime provides an unadulterated take of classic Americana.

Love in Wartime
Birds of Chicago
Signature Sounds
4 May 2018

Love can imbue individuals with a sense of power and buoyancy. The revelry and optimism summoned by passion are evoked by Birds of Chicago in their new album Love in Wartime. The madly in love and married duo of JT Nero and Allison Russell deliver a full album of new material that demonstrates their affection and absolute reverence for one another’s musicality. Summoning traditional Americana with nods to global influence, Birds of Chicago offers a free-and-easy album that develops the duo’s signature vocals with rich and imaginative instrumentation.

Love in Wartime starts simply with “Intro: Now/Sunlight”. Listeners are drawn in by Russell’s delicate humming heard over a slowly strummed banjo and twinkling piano. Harkening Patsy Cline’s classic country sound, Birds of Chicago immediately remind listeners of a musical era uncluttered by overproduction. Birds of Chicago’s introduction is an unmitigated homage to their musical influences.

Yet, the album is never antiquated or hokey. The following track, “Never Go Back”, picks up on the Americana foundation established by “Intro: Now/Sunlight”. The duo then expands the music beyond Americana conventions. The inclusion of falsetto and syncopated drum beats builds on the classic hand claps. That shows Birds of Chicago’s ability to balance a fine interplay between the exemplar and the experimental. Nero’s falsetto is an audible reminder of his vocal ability that is sometimes an afterthought compared to Russell’s singing eminence.

Birds of Chicago develop the Americana genre by threading in global influences. The title track, for example, features Russell, a native of Montreal, singing in French. The track also recalls Celtic folk music by lyrically referencing the Irish ballad “Star of the County Down”. Similarly, “Roll Away” mentions namaste following the lyrics, “We thought you were dead and gone further / My darling Clementine”. Here they notably juxtapose the folk ballad to Sanskrit thereby expanding the album’s musical parameters. All classic Americana finds roots in global influences, whether it is French, English, Creole, etc. Seemingly, many contemporary musicians take these influences for granted or at least fail to acknowledge the music’s history. Birds of Chicago’s lasting contribution to the genre is their ability to not only use Americana’s roots but also ensure the legacy is musically active.

As a whole, Love in Wartime feels quite low energy, and this runs in direct contrast to the danceability of “Never Go Back”. Usually, the band’s albums provoke involuntary head nodding and toe-tapping, but their newest release elicits a leisurely quality that becomes almost lethargic at some points. The title track is even more relaxed with the addition of a whimsical organ and layered vocals that gives the song a chimeric quality. Half-way through the album’s pace reinvigorates with “Travelers” while the visceral energy demarcating their previous albums is revisited in “Baton Rouge”.

Russell’s and Nero’s vocals form rich harmonies while rousing a striking counterpoint. Russell’s vocality is expectedly stunning while her ability to hold long notes is memorizing. As heard in “Try”, she holds a note flawlessly for nearly ten seconds. Comparatively, Nero’s voice is gritty and unfettered but adds authenticity to the music. Together they vocally go back-and-forth yet at times each singer respectfully steps back to allow the other room to perform. Their ability to share vocals reaches a stupendous quality in “Derecho”. Their harmonizing embodies a windstorms’ intensity that melds into tranquility.

Birds of Chicago have generated a diverse following from the Americana music scene and accolades from countless media outlets. All the positivity is deserved. Love in Wartime provides an unadulterated take of classic Americana without sounding conventional or uniformed. Finding inspiration and energy from the act of love, Birds of Chicago’s new release will enamor new listeners while satisfying everlasting fans.

RATING 7 / 10