Wendy Bird hatches a small “Wonder”
I try to cling tenaciously, perhaps naively, to the belief that in music, quality will always win the day; that the good stuff will bubble to the surface and find an audience. It isn’t always easy to hold firm to that notion.
The recent release of Wendy Bird’s new album, Natural Wonder (available online via indie Beaumont Classic Records), gives me some hope. Bird, a Vancouver-based singer, has recorded an album of songs drawn from the catalogue of Jeffrey Hatcher, who has for more than 30 years flirted with broad recognition (if not commercial success) through a variety of musical outlets. Bird’s album, an immensely accomplished countrypolitan take on Hatcher’s diverse Americana songbook, features Elvis Costello, Canadian blues guitar-slinger Colin James, Adam Levy (of Norah Jones’ band) and producer Craig Northey (The Odds) – all of them essentially volunteering to perform in service to Bird’s project and Hatcher’s songs.
In the Spring, 2009 No Depression bookazine, I wrote at length about Hatcher’s story. Growing up in Winnipeg, Hatcher was already a well-established local hero when I was in my teens; Hatcher’s proto-punk/new wave band Dark Horse performed at my high school dance in 1977. By the 80s, Hatcher and his brothers (drummer Paul, multi-instrumentalist Don) had relocated to Toronto and enjoyed a modest hit as Jeffrey Hatcher & The Big Beat with an album entitled Cross Our Hearts. When I was studying journalism in the 80s, my honors thesis was an account of the Big Beat’s efforts to get Cross Our Hearts made, released and heard. Later, Hatcher would move west to Vancouver, where he connected with 60s bubblegum teen heartthrob Billy Cowsill to form The Blue Shadows, truly one of the essential (but criminally ignored) alt-country acts.
The Blue Shadows’ “Don’t Expect A Reply”
All along the way, Hatcher made some exceptional music but never managed to attain significant commercial success, despite a scattered band of fans who have cherished the music and championed his fortunes. These days, he works as a music therapist back in Winnipeg, helping troubled young people overcome personal challenges through songwriting.
Bird sang and played with Hatcher in his short-lived post-Blue Shadows outfit The Reachers (also known as The Sugar Beats). For Natural Wonder, she plucked some gems from all over Hatcher’s back pages and delivers them in a rich voice swathed in expertly conceived arrangements (mostly recorded live-off-the-floor). It sounds like one of the best albums of both 2009 and 1970; had it been released that year it would have easily slid into playlists alongside, say, Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden.”
Hatcher has quietly been chipping at a new album alongside his brothers and longtime collaborator Dave Briggs. Until that’s ready to be formally unleashed upon the world, Hatcher could not have asked for a more sympathetic interpreter than Wendy Bird, and listeners could not ask for a more fulfilling introduction to his songwriting.