J.T. Nero’s (AKA Jeremy Lyndsay) 2011 release, Mountains/Forests made it into our top ten of 2011 albums with its honeyed capturing of a sun dappled laid back soulful past. Blabber’n’Smoke compared it to early seventies Laurel canyon songsters with a touch of Van Morrison around the time of Tupelo Honey thrown in for good measure. Po’ Girl singer, Allison Russell featured heavily on Mountains/Forests harmonising beautifully with Nero and the vocals were indeed the highpoint of the album. Now Nero and Russell have taken the plunge and come up as a fully fledged pairing under the moniker Birds Of Chicago and huddled within their nest are the majority of musicians (garnered from Po’ Girl and Nero’s band The Clouds) who contributed to the very fine musical backdrop of Mountains/Forests. In essence (aside from the change of name) Birds Of Chicago is Mountains/Forests part two and apart from Russell writing two songs and taking lead vocals on several of the offerings there’s little to distinguish between them, indeed both stand as fine examples of fine song writing and singing.
Having said that there’s a broader palette at play here with some forays into Louisiana territory and a more rustic feel to some of the songs that at times recalls the late Ronnie Lane’s freewheeling celebration of travelling folk best captured on Cannonball where Nero sounds uncannily like Lane. The burbling bass line of Russell’s Sans Souci does recall vintage van Morrison but overall the sound is less reliant on past times as they stamp their own personality on some superb songs. Trampoline kicks off the album in fine style with both singers swapping verses as the band kick up a funky dust and the vocals coalesce in the chorus. Russell’s Before She Goes is an eulogy for a departed one and introduces the Humboldt crows, perhaps the eponymous birds of Chicago who watch and wait. The crows reappear on the song Humboldt Crows which again appears to be an eulogy this time for Chicago itself. Nero does wax poetically in his writing with the best example, lyrically and performance wise to be heard in the amazing Moonglow Tapeworm that is part savvy street poetry, part surrealism. However the best is saved to last with the closing The Wide Sea where both singers unite with Nero’s cracked delivery perfectly balanced by Russell’s purity as the band surges with the unstoppable strength of a tide coming in.
Nero and Russell will be touring in the UK in April although as far as we can see there are no Scottish dates as yet. website
“JT NERO, wandering mystic, stumbling misfit, moping misanthrope, movable feaster, crooner, poet!” Or so it says on his website. He’s also the alter ego of Jeremy Thomas Lindsay, singer with JT and the Clouds who released one of the better Americana albums of 2010 with “Caledonia.” On this ostensibly solo album he’s accompanied by several of the Clouds with some members of Canadian band Po’ Girl also in attendance. Recorded in only three days in a cabin in Wisconsin the album is a gentle affair with laid back instrumentation and full attention given to Lindsay’s soulful voice and the utterly amazing harmonisings of Allison Russell and Michelle McGrath. The three of them sing wonderfully together elevating this album into the top ten of this years releases. In addition Lindsay’s writing is well up to the task of providing a fine set of songs for them to sing with several of them outstanding. Roll Tide is perhaps the standout, the sound of crickets introduce a strummed guitar and Lindsay’s sweet voice before banjo and the heavenly harmonies enter while a gentle bass and organ support the fragile edifice. A beautiful song. Roll Tide references Tupelo Honey and elsewhere Elton John’s Tiny Dancer gets a name check and its perhaps no coincidence that much of this album reminds one of the singer songwriters of Laurel Canyon back in the seventies and the whole Troubadour scene they created. Singers and writers who drew inspiration from the countryside but who were also infused by the melodic influence of The Beatles the likes of Neil Young, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Lowell George can all be heard in the grooves of this album. Thus the churning North Star, the Lennonesque Grey Ghost, the Nilsson like lyrics to Double Helix (Rainbow) and the New Orleans jive of Gallup, NM could all have sat well on a Warner Brothers album of the period. The blue eyed soul of Morrison of this period is well captured and here Lindsay’s day job with the Clouds stands him in good stead with their modern day take on soul.
So although recorded in a cabin this is not a back to the roots album unless the roots are that great blossoming of talent in LA back in the days. And despite most of the above one does not have to be an aficionado of LA Canyon music to enjoy what is an almost perfectly crafted album.
Lindsay along with Allison Russell and Po’ Girl drummer Mikey “Lighting” August have a short set of dates in England lined up in late November and December. Going by this album these look to be must attend!
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