Bowerbirds: Upper Air

On Bowerbirds’ 2007 debut, Hymns For A Dark Horse, the coupled-up North Carolina duo spun folksy tunes and gypsy rags about the wonders of nature, which made sense—the record was made with singer Phil Moore and accordionist Beth Tacular living in an Airstream trailer in the woods, building themselves a cabin between band practices. Just as fittingly, Bowerbirds’ sophomore LP, Upper Air, is a more intimate affair that finds the pair well nestled in a spare-but-sound set of songs. Most noticeably, the “Go-Earth!” Pollyannaism (which was impressively tolerable the last time around) has been replaced by a flair for verbiage on par with Andrew Bird and Elvis Perkins, the two singers most conjured by Moore’s syllable-stretching and emotive coo. There’s still a line drawn in the dirt between the natural world and civilization, but that divide is explored through narrative on “House Of Diamonds,” and lines like, “You are free from the greed of your culture / you are free from the lust for the luster of the diamond houses in the city’s cluster.” And this isn’t Upper Air’s primary focus: Love is, and on songs like “Ghost Life,” stones, dunes, and oceans are metaphorical fodder used to soften the tougher parts of romantic entanglement. Bowerbirds benefit from a more-is-less dynamic musically, as well. Moore and Tacular break out organ, piano, autoharp, violin, and upright bass, among other instruments (not to mention a killer boy-girl harmony), but all in a successful effort to arrive at a simpler, more measured sound epitomized by the soulful jangler “Northern Lights” and the delicate surge of “Teeth.” Upper Air is a comely album through and through, and certainly one of this year’s high-water marks for the acoustically inclined.

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