J.T. Nero’s (AKA Jeremy Lyndsay) 2011 release, Mountains/Forests made it into our top ten of 2011 albums with its honeyed capturing of a sun dappled laid back soulful past. Blabber’n’Smoke compared it to early seventies Laurel canyon songsters with a touch of Van Morrison around the time of Tupelo Honey thrown in for good measure. Po’ Girl singer, Allison Russell featured heavily on Mountains/Forests harmonising beautifully with Nero and the vocals were indeed the highpoint of the album. Now Nero and Russell have taken the plunge and come up as a fully fledged pairing under the moniker Birds Of Chicago and huddled within their nest are the majority of musicians (garnered from Po’ Girl and Nero’s band The Clouds) who contributed to the very fine musical backdrop of Mountains/Forests. In essence (aside from the change of name) Birds Of Chicago is Mountains/Forests part two and apart from Russell writing two songs and taking lead vocals on several of the offerings there’s little to distinguish between them, indeed both stand as fine examples of fine song writing and singing.
Having said that there’s a broader palette at play here with some forays into Louisiana territory and a more rustic feel to some of the songs that at times recalls the late Ronnie Lane’s freewheeling celebration of travelling folk best captured on Cannonball where Nero sounds uncannily like Lane. The burbling bass line of Russell’s Sans Souci does recall vintage van Morrison but overall the sound is less reliant on past times as they stamp their own personality on some superb songs.
Trampoline kicks off the album in fine style with both singers swapping verses as the band kick up a funky dust and the vocals coalesce in the chorus. Russell’s Before She Goes is an eulogy for a departed one and introduces the Humboldt crows, perhaps the eponymous birds of Chicago who watch and wait. The crows reappear on the song Humboldt Crows which again appears to be an eulogy this time for Chicago itself. Nero does wax poetically in his writing with the best example, lyrically and performance wise to be heard in the amazing Moonglow Tapeworm that is part savvy street poetry, part surrealism. However the best is saved to last with the closing The Wide Sea where both singers unite with Nero’s cracked delivery perfectly balanced by Russell’s purity as the band surges with the unstoppable strength of a tide coming in.