LAURA BIRDSONG – DEBUT CD REVIEW – “CRAZY WISDOM”
Recently acquired the debut album by Laura Birdsong with some songs featured here on No Depression.
Some critics have a tendency to give opinions so seriously they don’t bother focusing on individual songs or effort made to actually create something from nothing. They are so self-serving they either elevate the artist to saintly proportions, take their own opinions to a level of gospel, or simply pour gasoline on the artist’s work while using words readers need a dictionary for. People who love music just want to know if it’s worth their time to listen, enjoy and invest.
Recorded by the reliable Don Sternecker at New Jersey’s Mix-O-Lydian Studios — Don also helmed the 1987 debut album by The Brandos – “Honor Among Thieves”– an album that remained in the charts 19 weeks. I immediately believed Laura’s work was in good hands.
The recording of the album “Crazy Wisdom” is crisp and appealing. Despite the great sound of The Brandos album technology has improved since 1987. As expected, Laura’s opener “Shadow in My Pocket,” is very upbeat, country flavored, delightful and sounds wonderful. A good introduction to this young artist’s pristine vocals. But would the momentum continue?
Laura’s voice is smooth in this bouncing, danceable track that stays true to the genre. Musicians are impeccable. Emmylou Harris would be comfortable with these people but Laura Birdsong has them all for herself.
The style on this track is reminiscent to folk-rock singer Ruthann Friedman who had a wonderful Warner Brothers album out in 1969 called “Constant Companion.” Ruthann is famous for having written the top ten hit “Windy” covered by The Association.
Now, Laura isn’t so much influenced by Ruthann, she may not even know who Ruthann is. But my reference is strictly in Laura’s following in that tradition. Many people have never heard of Ruthann Friedman and that’s a shame. Maybe Laura Birdsong will fair better.
The next track: another upbeat tune that’s a sing-along: “The Right Thing” sounds like an appropriate opening song for a concert. Relentless drums, stinging guitars and Laura once again unveils a strong vocal. Instruments like a mandolin could get lost in such a fast song – but the recording, engineering and mixing of the tune is so good nothing gets lost, muddied or muddled.
“Come and Go” calms things down. A warmly melodic ballad with crisp acoustic guitars, reflective and pensive lyrics. Laura’s voice is sincere. Though there are no religious references — the lyrics seem to suggest a spirituality under the surface. Subliminal. Good late night listening.
“I Don’t Want to Let Go,” is more commercial. While the performance is steady, the song itself may need a little more flavoring. Joni Mitchell did a song called “Banquet” years ago. Not a favorite of mine. Not until she performed it live several years later. Then she had it. Apparently, Joni needed to find “Banquet” and she did. The song became a favorite. I hear this as well on this song. It needs to performed a few times live and soon it’s potential, good melody and message will “find” itself. It just needs a little more….salt. The flavor needs to be brought out.
“Kiss me one more time,” is a great coda to the song and I love the way Laura sings that.
“Edge of Desire” is a nice old fashion 50’s rollicking country track. The late Timi Yuro and Patsy Cline would find gold in this one. Laura’s vocals work very well with the male chorus who are reminiscent of The Drifters – if you want to believe that. The song also lends itself to a sound another Laura strived for – Laura Nyro. Only here, it’s a song Laura Nyro would have wanted from Laura Birdsong. Our Laura presents her material with her own signature on it – admirably. The pedal steel is marvelous too. A fun listen.
“Night of the Waxing Moon.” Again, there is a bit of retro styling here that works brilliantly. Laura’s vocals mix nicely with the male vocal and her intelligent lyrical delivery is cool. Rickie Lee Jones meets Joni Mitchell – they both should have thought of that title. My nominee for a single release.
This track has the most infectious melody and performance: “The Sun Will Shine.” A good lyric. A positive message. It sounds as if everyone is having fun performing it. The happiness and hilarity spills through the speakers. Musicianship here is remarkable. If I were a music teacher in an elementary school I would teach the students to sing this one. I know they would love it. It’s that good.
Title track is positioned perfectly after “Sun.” “Crazy Wisdom” has hints of Buffy Sainte-Marie. A poignant song that many of today’s songwriters have forgotten how to write. Laura hasn’t.
“Straight Talk,” — percussive — nice driving beat that did not interfere with the vocals or mandolin. Laura’s momentum on this album is consistent. She knows when to let loose, when to cruise and when to walk. She wisely paced the songs throughout her album and this track is beautifully performed.
“Water Wind and Touch” is her brilliant track. Again, a bit of a reminder of Buffy Sainte-Marie in tradition only. Laura is quite original here in performance. Sincerity is the key to her voice. I just believe the title “water wind and touch” needs to be sung slower with descending notes not ascending. Let the listener reach for that last word “touch” — which is important. Sing it like a lesson is being taught. Merely a suggestion. Lyrically, Laura again has a compellingly touch. She is in control throughout. “And I want you so much…” A truly great line sung with conviction. This tune stays with you even after it’s done.
“Hey,” — a track that should be the encore. Come back, lasso the entire audience into a sing-a-long-clap-along-stomp your feet finale. Great melody. People will leave telling each other they can’t wait to come again to see her.
“Shine,” is powerful….powerful…powerful. Nothing like the others. A good example of versatility. Easily adapted into a gospel or spiritual song. Great musical performance. Another potential encore song. I’d like to hear harmonica in there somewhere late in the song or near the end — a trumpet similar to what was at the end of “Penny Lane,” by the Beatles. Pete Seeger would do this, Melanie Safka would drench it in sentimentality. Cassandra Wilson would sing it like a hymn. Excellent in its simplicity. Memorable.
This next track is an enigma. Laura now steps into Dory Previn land. Dory wrote show tunes and soundtracks in the early 60’s with her then husband Andre Previn. In the 70’s she turned in four magnificent folk-rock solo albums regarded as brilliant and are much sought after today. This song by Laura is incredible – because of its resemblance to a great singer-songwriter who in most circles is forgotten today. Laura has dipped her finger into a Dory Previn well and “Strange Game” is wonderful.
This is a compliment of the highest order. Few can come close to the quality, complexity and intimacy of Dory Previn. Now, Laura Birdsong is not imitating Ms. Previn. Her vocals have that same resonance, inflection and phrasing. Much the same as Madeleine Peyroux, Joy Eden Harrison and Karen Dalton who sound similar to Billie Holiday. They aren’t imitating. They are all just coming from the same plain, same tone and spirit.
This is one stunning song. A nicely paced closer. Probably my favorite.
In closing, the album was a pleasure to listen to. It does not fall into that limbo of three good songs and the rest filler. It sounds like time was taken to plan carefully. Hopefully, a sophomore effort will be blessed with the same TLC. The entire collection is interesting and Laura gave inspired performances.
I mentioned Dory Previn earlier, well, Dory, like Laura Birdsong, is a Jersey girl so I am not surprised that the work is as good as it is. Must be something in the water. Mary Chapin Carpenter is also a Jersey girl and in some respects Patti Smith. Seems there is a lot more talent here than just Bruce.
There’s a nice sentiment in the CD package too. A hint at a possible “song title” for Laura to find. It would be the words: “This Would Still Be A Dream.”
Laura Birdsong’s debut is deserving of many listens. This is where I found her. Sample some on No Depression.
John Apice / January 10, 2011