Seven Birds CD
Seven Birds CD
According to persistent legend a truck carrying a load of green parrots turned over on the Interstate highway near New Orleans sometime in the late twentieth century and spilled its colorful cargo into the local mythology. Whether the story is true or not, there are green parrots all over town and they often congregate noisily in tall palm trees and on telephone and electric wires above the heads of the citizens. The song, Seven Birds, was inspired by the activities of these birds and their similarities to the activities of my son, Tucker, and his teenage friends during high school. Like the parrots who fly away one at a time, Tucker’s friends dispersed slowly as they grew into adults. There are eleven stories on this album, but this is the only one told from the perspective of a flock of birds.
Midnight Delta gives us a feeling for the sights and sounds of rural Mississippi. I’ve Been Delayed tells of longing and loneliness. The Party’s Over describes the liberation of a woman who has finally had enough of her old life, while I’m the One paints a picture of acceptance of a status quo that is far from perfect. What’s in Your Pocket takes us on a tour of one man’s personal, portable treasures; and Disappearing Nightly illuminates the life of a traveling musician. The thread that ties these songs together is nothing more or less than life itself.
On this album I take advantage of a pool of musician friends in Germany. Sini, Reinhard, Fred and Mutz bring fresh ideas to the studio; and it is a treat to create music with them. The two tracks recorded in New Orleans give me a chance to introduce the wonderfully impish Aurora Nealand, one of my all-time favorite musical cohorts. But, of course, no matter how much we enjoy making music, the circle is not complete until someone hears it. Thank you for listening!
January 2015, New Orleans
Another keeper from the great Spencer Bohren. Bohren is well known for his singing and guitar work but he has amassed a really impressive songbook over the years, and Seven Birds is a useful addition. The itinerant troubadour has a huge following in Europe, where most of this record was recorded, but this is pure Americana—folk and blues. Songs of travel and longing, desperation, loneliness and finally resolve.
Did I mention parrots? The title song is about parrots, and not the Jimmy Buffet kind. These are renegade parrots, and their tale is told here by a master storyteller.
“According to persistent legend, a truck carrying a load of green parrots turned over on the Interstate highway near New Orleans sometime in the late 20th century and spilled its colorful cargo into New Orleans mythology,” Bohren explains. “The song ‘Seven Birds’ was inspired by the activities of these birds and their similarities to the activities of my son, Tucker, and his teenage friends during high school.” “Seven Birds” was cut with a German roots music band whose terse, economical style fits the folk/blues contours of Bohren’s writing perfectly.
“Ghost Train” starts things off impressively, with Bohren’s atmospheric vocal and the band’s stark accompaniment setting the right tone for an album that explores the dark side of the human psyche. Fred Neil’s classic “Blue on the Ceiling” is one of several excellent covers, including “I’ve Been Delayed” and an outstanding solo reading of the Paul Sanchez song “Jet Black and Jealous,” a far different reading from the one recorded for the Write Brothers album. “Midnight Delta” evokes a rural Mississippi landscape, “Disappearing Nightly” describes the lonely ritual of a traveling musician and “What’s in Your Pocket” is a talking blues-style catalog of the contents of a wanderer’s pocket, that is to say, everything he needs. “Skin a Cat” was co-written with Clark Vreeland and “The Party’s Over” is a song about a woman who finally gets fed up with a longstanding relationship.
A few songs were recorded in New Orleans with help from Bohren’s bandmate in Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers, Aurora Nealand, on voice and accordion. Her arrangement of the traditional folk song “500 Miles” closes the album on a spectral note. Nealand’s opening verse turns the gentle, open melody into a nightmarish vision. She is able to suggest terror and wonder simultaneously in her unconscious warble, and seems truly lost as she speculates about how far she is from home.When Bohren takes over on the second verse he sounds positively sepulchral, as formal as a death mask, like Johnny Cash singing on his Rick Ruben-produced end-of-life album. Bohren, a true conjurer, is adept at the hair-raising performance, but here with Nealand he delivers the kind of post-apocalypse dread that lies at the heart of American literature.
New Orleans-based singer-guitarist Spencer Bohren has a recording career that stretches back three decades. Over the years he has come up with distinctive albums that have shown him to be an artist who consistently tries to expand his sonic palette and apply his talents to a broad range of materials, yet he always keeps himself firmly rooted in a blues sensibility. His past few releases have ranged from Tempered Steel (2013), a set dedicated to his solo lap steel guitar playing, to solo interpretation of blues related country tunes, The Blues According to Hank Williams (2010). His latest effort, Seven Birds, is reminiscent of Blackwater Music (2011) in that it is a mix of solo and small ensemble performances; however, the earlier CD was a hard-driving, rocking affair, while the current recording features a more folky and playful tone. Most of the new release was recorded in Germany with a number of local musicians contributing percussion, bass and guitars. In addition to the array of banjos, lap steel and acoustic and electric guitars that Bohren plays.
Things kick off with Ghost Train: with its spare, pausing beat, haunting tone and shadowy lyrics, this is a classic example of a Bohren speciality, what he calls a “spook blues.” Two additional blues-infused pieces, Midnight Delta and Fred Neil’s Blues on the Ceiling, are remakes of tracks from his debut LP, Born in a Biscayne (1984). They both were standouts in his live shows all those years ago, and his updates testify to how much he has grown as a singer and guitarist and enable him to introduce them to new listeners. With a rocking boogie groove driven by grinding guitars, Disappearing Nightly celebrates the life of a touring musician.
The more folk oriented singer-songwriter side of Bohren is on display in songs that are essentially character studies or meditations on life. Accompanied by a spare banjo line, he delivers a heartfelt version of the classic Wayfaring Stranger. Rob McLerran and and John Herron’s I’ve Been Delayed is a forlorn love letter home from a lonesome traveler that features Bohren on acoustic guitar and co-producer Reinhard Finke on six-string bass. Jet Black & Jealous, written by New Orleans songwriter Paul Sanchez, is an indictment of a vicious lover. Two Bohren originals, The Party’s Over, the ballad of a neglected wife who breaks free and heads down the road and Seven Birds, a reflection on the effects of life on a group of maturing bays played with bouncy, ragtime feel, bear witness to the range of Bohren’s skills as a songwriter. Bohren’s playful side comes out on two tracks, the banjo/beatbox accompanied rhyme What’s in your Pocket? and the bare-bones kiss off to a lover, Skin a Cat.
Two tracks were recorded in New Orleans with the multifaceted singer and musician Aurora Zealand. I’m the One, featuring Zealand on accordion accompanying Bohren’s vocal and guitar is a dramatic monologue that tells the story of an old farmer dealing with hard times and loneliness. Bohren and Zealand engage in a stunning vocal duet that recasts the folk revival classic 500 Miles into a kind of Indian raga with a droning accordion and a sitar-like fills from the lap steel. Seven Birds covers a lot of territory and is another major mile marker in Spencer Bohren’s journey through American roots music.
— Robert H. Cataliotti