Album Review: Tough Old Bird – Gambling Days
If the sound of subtle strings and clear vocals help you feel sane, this album is pure tonic. Tough Old Bird offer a relaxing sonic embrace that fits perfectly with what we do here at EarToTheGround. You’ll hear sounds as familiar as the guitar, but then some other more eclectic mountain strings. It all comes together for a lonesome, meandering sound that is sure to bring comfort to the furthest lost of us.
“Spring, Come Again” is one of those perfectly allegorical pieces about something raw and real like the seasons, but not just literal seasons. It’s about seeing through the other side of a broken or breaking relationship, hoping that it gets good again. We’ve all been there. The twang and the chorus-like strings usher in feelings of peace and hope.
The title track “Gambling Days” starts with that old camp song strum pattern, leading nicely into a melodic full band sound. The guitars fill the air waves with what must be chemistry in sound. It’s clear that the band not only plays together a good bit, but really plays off of one another with aplomb. As the band riffs their way to the first verse, there’s the distinct sense that this is a band that would happily jam for an hour without a single lyric sung. That kind of joy permeates the entire album.
The jumpy string work of “Buried in My Grave” brought an instant smile to my face. It sounds like the kind of jam you’d hear on Frenchman Street in New Orleans. The bluesy melody suits the lead singer’s vocal perfectly. I have to say I love the bass on this one. It’s the kind of song that perfectly embodies the genre of Americana. And not to spoil anything… but that harmonica is out of this world.
The fingerpicking on “Build It Again” reminds me of classic folk music, melting hearts with each pluck. It’s a beautiful tone shift from the previous track, too, into a more introspective and thoughtful sound. I was excited to hear “Wheeling, WV” since I grew up not far from there in western Pennsylvania. Hearing the crawling melancholy of the lead vocalist gave me a touch of nostalgia for home; it’s clear that the song captures the isolation and simplicity of that region of the country. The gospel overtones in the song lead nicely to the two tracks that follow this travelling anthem.
“The Old Revival” has a wispy harmonica and a delicate guitar line that works nicely together. It’s impossible to listen to without thinking of a Baptist church in the middle of a big field. When the full band comes in to fill the track, you will get chills. It’s a song full of life and energy, telling a story of faith and faithfulness that is worth hearing, even if you’re not a person of faith. The related “Lay Down My Burden” expresses a different element of the life of faith, more of a confession than the previous call for providential intervention. I appreciate “Lay Down My Burden” for its quixotic nature and sprightly delivery. “Sometimes I get to missin’ my home.” It’s a wonderfully human track with some of the best harmonies on the whole album.
“High Tide” begins with an accordion that will knock your socks right off. See this isn’t Opa’s old world accordion. No, this is a repurposed Americana accordion, full of sound and those slightly imperfect chords that are just enough to make a song feel good. I appreciate the artistry, musicianship, and originality of this song, that seems to blend the best of so much that was happening in American music in the 1960s. The following “Memorial Day” calms things down a bit, with a sound that is more pure folk than some of the others on the album. It is, fittingly, a track that shows gentle appreciation for the service of others. There’s grief in these lines, though, so brace yourself to be moved.
The final track “By & By” is legitimately one of my favorites. It bops right along, while also crooning a dedicated sweetness as well. It feels like a box of crackjacks, a little sweet and a little salty. It just feels right. There’s a hat tip to the old roots of jazz in the ragtime world, but also a healthy reference to the traveling, wandering life of days gone by. It is, in a word, whimsical. You’re gonna love it; trust me.
This is a fantastic album. I found myself imagining places from my own past fused with new faces and characters I had never known. Like a good book, it took me on a journey that I did not anticipate. This is probably not an album you’ll put on in the background; you will find yourself fully immersed in this album, enjoying each buoyant stringed expression and vocal flourish. It’s a winner; give it a spin.