Bowerbirds : The Clearing

Bowerbirds formed in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2006 as an emerging American folk band and have worked diligently to craft a unique sound  The music of Bowerbirds is similar in tempo and style to performing acts like Spanish Burn, My Head Is An Animal, and Devendra Banhart, but their lyrical focus is very different.

The band is composed of Philip Moore (vocals, guitar), Beth Tacular (accordion, vocals) and Mark Paulson (violin, vocals), who each bring a different skill-set that enables them to craft robust musical compositions. The depth of the music is such that many of their songs could stand alone without the accompanying lyrics.  This isn’t to say the songwriting is anything less than insightful and inspired; rather, it should be taken as a compliment to the band’s mastery of instrumental sound.

Their highly acclaimed freshman and sophomore releases – Hymns for a Dark Horse and Upper Air, respectively – give high expectations to their latest endeavor, The Clearing.  The lyrics on this latest release offer introspection into the tribulations of life.  Many of these songs were likely cathartic expressions from bandmates Moore and Tacular, as their personal lives and relationship were tested under the strain of becoming a full-fledged touring band.  Moore’s and Tacular’s harmonies offer a sense of togetherness and mutual respect that bring a cohesion to their music missing from their previous releases. The creative drive that goes into their acoustic presentations has now caught pace with their proficiency in songwriting, and this meeting of the waters has culminated in their best album to date. 

The Clearing opens strongly with “Tuck the Darkness In,” an ethereal song that sticks closely to Bowerbirds’ trademark sound, but introduces a new sumptuousness and spotlights a precision in their musical composition. The next three tracks on The Clearing are a one-two-three punch that typifies how this band has honed its ability to cleverly juxtapose robust, symphonic sounds against delicate songwriting.  “In the Yard” is probably my favorite song on the album. Tacular’s voice breathes new emotion into her lyrical phrasing, and her prophetic words cleverly articulate a desire to find security and contentment in a frequently contentious world. Their resolve was to return to their cabin in the North Carolina woods to “nest – to make soup and walk dogs, to make art and write songs.”  This cut is followed by “Walk the Furrows,” a sorrowful number that encourages forward thinking through reflection on past experiences.  “Stitch the Hem” is an excellent example of the Bowerbirds shift toward mainstream appeal by providing an interesting, but basic melody accompanied with a clever, catchy hook. Two other standout tracks on this latest release are “Hush” and “Overcome With Light,” both of which contain interesting melodies and tempo changes, and an emotional outpouring of words indicative of Bowerbirds’ style of songwriting.

The Clearing is more than a third record for Bowerbirds. It represents a fresh and timely outlook for the band, but also serves as a defining point in their overall sound.  Songwriting has always been a staple from this band, but the music on this latest releases gives a richness and depth missing from their earlier albums.  While folk music is still a creative driving force behind Bowerbirds, The Clearing is a solid effort in bridging the gap that exists between the folk genre and mainstream music.

The Clearing is out now on Dead Oceans.