Guest Review by Lisa Regula Meyer.
Bowerbirds. The Clearing.
Dead Oceans, 2012. Bowerbirds: http://www.bowerbirds.org/
As the Bowerbirds’ third CD, The Clearing is a good way to get to know this rising folk group. Formed in 2006 in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Bowerbirds have toured with The Mountain Goats and been compared with Joanna Newsom and Lavender Diamond. Their previous albums include Hymns for a Dark Horse (2006) and Upper Air (2009). This third album shows significant growth and departure from their previous albums; The Clearing is more refined, polished, and solid sounding. But more than growth, this album also comes from a place of recovery. Since the last album, Beth and Phil have broken up and reunited, and Beth has been physically recovering from a mysterious, life-threatening illness. The kind of changes seen in The Clearing really only comes after refocusing and reorganizing in response to major challenges. It’s only when we’re challenged that we can face the opportunity for significant growth, and the Bowerbirds reflect that well.
The Clearing is very much a folk album in it’s simplistic arrangement and reliance on the vocal instrument to convey much of the songs’ artistry. The lyrics easily pass as poetry set to music, with abstract vocalizations giving a haunting, eerie feeling to many of the tracks. Tuck the Darkness In starts out calm and tame, but ends larger than life with a wall of electric guitar and drums. In the Yard collapses multiple voices into one charming choir over piano, guitar, and drums. Walk the Furrows sounds like a campfire without being “campy,” just a classic song of a simpler life, interspersed with grand vocal swells. Stitch the Hem has foot-stomping, hand clapping moments of sheer joy. This Year is a bit of an ill-fit in that the vocals are overpowered often by the instrumental parts, but the lyrics to this are also repetitive, so the missing pieces don’t leave you wondering about a story. Brave World has a bit of a science-fiction-y ring (think Doctor Who themes from the Tom Baker years), and fits nicely with the title of the track. Hush has less of a lullaby feeling than a wake up and smile sound, but a calming piece nonetheless. Overcome with Light is an understated piece of quiet joyfulness. Sweet Moment has a very earthy, grounded tone, which is a nice break from the more ethereal tracks. Death Wish is not nearly as dark lyrically or musically as the name would imply, and is in fact quite up-beat. Now We Hurry on has almost symphonic parts, as well as a strong horn sounds, ending the album solidly and leaving the listener looking for when Bowerbirds will have a new album out (unknown at this time).
Personnel: Philip Moore (vocals, guitar), Beth Tacular (accordion, vocals) and Mark Paulson (violin, vocals).
Tracks: Tuck the Darkness In, In the Yard, Walk the Furrows, Stitch the Hem, This Year, Brave World, Hush, Overcome With Light, Sweet Moment, Death Wish, Now We Hurry On