Sunday, June 25, 2017

Review of He-Bird, She-Bird's "He-Bird, She-Bird"

I posted this review on the Sputnik Music website a little earlier tonight. Credit where credit is due, I borrowed ("stole" is such a judgmental term) the Review Summary quote, and I'm pretty sure it was from that fiery genius Mike Ferrari. (Wasn't that the Aural Fix tagline?)  Haven't seen him in ages, but I'm sure if he ever sees this review, it will bring a smile to his face and warmth to his heart.

The mid-'90s was the point when the national music scene went south for me. Prior to that, I always prided myself on remaining open to new music. While many in my so-called cohort group jumped off of the tunes train at various stations along the way, I stayed on board, savoring each new musical genre I passed through. In the early '90s, it was the whole grunge scene, which reminded me of punk, slowed down and turned inside out. I thought that would last for a bit longer, but then Kurt Cobain blew his brains out, and grunge as a national obsession ground to a halt. For a year or so after that, alternative rock was on the rise, and all of the music papers swore that it was the next big thing. The record sales just weren't big enough to satisfy the major labels, though, so alternative rock quickly became indie rock, and got shuttled off to college radio. 

After that, it all went to doggy doo. The Spice Girls in 1996; Britney, Christina and The Backstreets at the end of '90s, American Idol and all of those vomit-inducing Disney pop kids in the early 2000s -- add all of them together with the rise of hip-hop, a musical genre that I accept as genuinely artistic but I nevertheless take little personal pleasure in -- and I ran for the hills. I retreated, first into college radio, then eventually into my own local music scene, where I learned that not only was there quality music being created in virtually any genre I could ask for, it was available abundantly, inexpensively, and right in my own backyard. A wise man once said that every band is a local band from somewhere. People are out there every night, creating and performing music that comes from their hearts, unaided by expensive recording studios and huge marketing budgets.

Which brings me to He-Bird, She-Bird. This is a local band from my own hometown of Long Island, NY, that just released their first album, a self-titled LP in the country/folk/Americana genre. The band consists of one he-bird, Todd Evans, and two she-birds, Terri Hall and Christine Keller. And like Godzilla's old foe Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, these guys are a triple threat -- each of the trio sings lead on different tracks. Evans has what I think of as a traditional male country voice -- smooth sometimes, gravelly others. As for the ladies, Keller's sound is sweet and earnest, while Hall's has a little more of a kick to it. And man, can they harmonize.

The music throughout is mostly a product of acoustic stringed instruments. There's a light sprinkling of electric bass, organ, hand percussion and drums. Mostly, though, it's all about acoustic guitars, accompanied by various fiddles, mandolins, banjos, violins, etc. The result is a light and down-to-earth sound that complements the vocals rather than competing with them. And if you're thinking that indie band equals less-than-professional recording, in this case, banish the thought. This is a polished album, especially for a debut.

All of the music and lyrics throughout were written by Ms. Keller, who manages to mix it up enough to keep the sound consistently interesting. There are fast and slow songs, folk ballads and gritty blues songs, even a little bluegrass and honky-tonk. Between the different styles of music and the individual fortes of the three vocalists, He-Bird, She-Bird engages the listener from beginning to end.

He-bird Evans takes the lead on six of the album's twelve tracks, while Hall and Keller sing three apiece. Each of the three has their share of nice moments. Evans' best track is probably the one that leads off the album, "Once I Called You Mine". The one-sheet describes it as a "wistful love song", and that's a pretty accurate description. It's a sad but fond look back at a relationship that didn't work out. I also like "Spark", a darker number that's as elemental as a dance around a campfire, and "She Got Married", the musical tale of a young spitfire of a gal who's her own worst enemy.

My favorite track on the whole album is one where Keller sings lead, "Someone Said a Prayer". It's a simple, pretty song with an upbeat outlook on life. In contrast, "Call It Love" is a brooding, more turbulent number. It's about a passionate romance that seems to be equal parts love and pain. As for Hall, her strongest track is "It's Just Me", a slow, soft song about an entirely more wholesome relationship. "Don't Tempt Me", a brassy, more country-flavored offering, is also strong.

Wherever you live, if you don't have the big bucks to shell out to catch whatever musical superstar the industry happens to be hawking these days, or if you live somewhere where the big acts don't come anywhere near your hometown, take heart. Odds are that somewhere nearby, in a small club, a coffee house or even a garage is a band making music not because they expect to sell a million units, but simply because the music lives in their souls. Some of it is as good or better than the stuff that gets all the airplay. He-Bird, She-Bird is a band like that, who I'm proud to say comes from the Island I call home. If you happen to like folk, country and roots music, you might give them a listen. And while you're at it, don't be afraid to check out your own local scene. There's good music out there, if you're willing to go and find it.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars