Birds of Chicago
Alt. Country Finally Finds its Soul.
I can vaguely remember when I first encountered Jeremy Lindsay; the male half of the Birds of Chicago; as it was on a sunny afternoon at one of the first SummerTyne Festivals and he was under the moniker JT Nero. While he looked a bit like Shaggy from Scooby Doo his voice knocked me sideways, backwards and upside down.
A few months later he returned to the Jumping Hot Club as JT and the Clouds; and I was sitting front and centre, open mouthed for an hour and a half. It was Country Jim; but not as we know it!
Jump forward another year and JT was billed above a female act called Po’ Girl at the Newcastle Evolution Festival. I can’t remember the actual details; but I do remember him joining the girls onstage and when he sang harmonies with the pretty Allison; the stars aligned and their voices melted together like strawberry sauce and vanilla ice cream on a hot day.
I saw JT and the Clouds at least one more time; but it was when JT was meant to do a solo UK Tour in 2012 (I think) that things changed; because he was joined by the beautiful Allison Russell and the twinkle in their eyes when they harmonised told the small crowd that we were witnessing history in the making.
Enough of the history!
As with many Americana and Folk acts these days; this album was pre-funded by fans via Kickstarter and much to the couple’s surprise the target was reached in a few short weeks and the studio booked. Snippets were sent out to excited fans and just before Christmas the much anticipated download arrived.
I actually went airheaded as Allison’s voice oozed out my speakers within seconds of the start of track #1, Dim Star of the Palisades. Three minutes later I was sat back on the sofa like a cartoon teenager who has been hit with the ‘love hammer’ – bluebirds were genuinely twittering around the room as I sat grinning like a ninny.
Song #2 Remember Wild Horses has JT taking lead vocals on love story of Cinemascope magnitude. Somehow Lindsay takes a relatively simple story; twists it around and then adds some poetic phrases that will blow your mind – well; it did mine.
This is by far; the best and most ‘grown-up’ collection of songs that Lindsay and/or The Birds of Chicago have released; with the harmonies and quiet piano, guitar and drums on Real Midnight being a weird Blue Note Jazz/Southern Americana hybrid that works like a dream.
The first time I heard (The Wind that Shakes the) Barley I was left open mouthed! Allison sings acapella with only hand clicks, tambourine and the occasion bass drum accompaniment on a Gospel song; so sweet it could draw me back to Chapel after 45 years in the wilderness.
While I love JT’s voice (it’s never sounded finer than on Love Kills Shadows and Time & Time) he’s wise enough to know that Allison is a star in the making; letting her take lead on the majority of songs here; especially memorable on the stunning The Good Fight and later, Good Dream, which closes the album.
While I absolutely love everything about this album, the song Colour of Love is Jeremy Lindsay’s song writing at it’s very best, coupled with Joe Henry’s cutting edge production and Allison sounds uncannily like a young Aretha. Put those things together and you will be moved to tears; like I have been each time I’ve heard the song.
As usual; JT’s songs are quite stunning in their complexity; but never so much that you can’t listen to them if you are a bit thick like me! Just like when I discovered Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen in my mid-teens; I didn’t understand everything they sang about; but I knew it was intelligent and beautiful in equal measures and I may understand it one day; and if I didn’t the music would still be good enough to draw me back time and time again. The Birds of Chicago fall into exactly the same category.
Released February 13th 2016