Birds of Chicago. Live From Space

J.T. Nero and Alison Russell’s Birds of Chicago album was one of the best releases of last year capturing the pair in top form vocally as they wrapped their soulful voices around their excellent songs. Live from Space offers listeners the opportunity to hear the live experience as Nero and Russell, with a five piece band behind them, heave into Evanston, Illinois what must have been a doozie of a night. Recorded warts and all with no overdubs the first impression one has that there are no warts on show, the songs flow, the musicians rise to the occasion and the singing is as well done as in the studio, at times it’s hard to recall that this is a live album. Second impression however is that much of what we hear does not add to the studio recordings and the lack of introductions, tuning, glitches (there must have been at least one) means that there is a somewhat sterile air to the affair. This isn’t Live At Leeds or Kick Out The Jams.

Having said that the album is a delight from start to finish and there are moments when the spirit of the evening is captured with Prairie Lullaby standing out with its loose limbed canter, guitar jabs and tootling clarinet almost adding to a mini jam towards the end of the song. It’s a lengthy album, 76 minutes and 17 songs long and it does ebb and flow much like a live show would. There’s a definite peak six songs in with the aforementioned Prairie Lullaby followed by a superb Mountains/Forests that does gain from the live setting with Nero’s vocals impassioned as he strains to let the words tumble out. The best is kept to the end as the band whip themselves (and the audience) into a mild frenzy. Fever Dream‘s driving bass line develops into a powerful soul stew with a Booker T and the MGs’ urgency as Nero and Russell spar on vocals like Inez and Charlie Foxx. Trampoline gets a soul makeover, losing some of its original sunny disposition but gaining a solid soul groove.

Live From Space is a snapshot of a particular night and as such it does its job. Nero and Russell are the core, the heart and soul of the band and as the sleeve notes say they appear as a duo, trio, a quartet and occassionally, the “Cadillac edition,” seven strong. This is the Cadillac show and its unlikely to appear on these shores so the album is an essential for fans of the band. For newbies it might be best to start with last years album

They’re appearing in the UK this month and next as a four piece we believe, dates below
APRIL – UK
Thurs 24 Portsmouth The Square Tower
Fri 25 Whitstable The Royal Native Oyster Stores
Sat 26 Lewes The Elephant & Castle
Sun 27 Birmingham The Kitchen Garden Café
Tues 29 Hempstead, nr. Saffron Walden The Bluebell Inn
Weds 30 London Green Note
MAY – Ireland & N. Ireland
Fri 2 Dundalk Vantastival
Sat 3 Enniskillen Ardhowen Theatre
Mon 5 Dingle, Co. Kerry McCarthy’s Bar, Féile na Bealtaine Music & Arts Festival
Thurs 8 Clonmel, Co. Tipperary Raheen House Hotel
Fri 9 Galway Monroe’s co-headline with Liam Ó Maonlaí
Sat 10 Ballybofey, Co. Donegal Balor Arts Centre
Sun 11 Dublin Whelan’s
Mon 12 Ballymore Eustace Mick Murphy’s
Tues 13 Kildare Cunningham’s

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