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Birds of Chicago - Birds of Chicago (Self Release)

Star rating: 

Those who have encountered either Chicago's JT and the Clouds or Vancouver's Po'Girl, even if only for the briefest of moments, will already be aware that the lead singers of each of these two outfits are in possession of something very special indeed. JT Nero and Allison Russell's collaboration has been steadily brewing since they both appeared on each of their respective band's most recent albums CALEDONIA and FOLLOW YOUR BLISS. This reciprocation was followed by the first full length album collaboration between the two musicians on JT NERO's superb MOUNTAINS/FORESTS, which showcased the duo's tangible musical chemistry. Having tested the water with that project, JT and Alli return with BIRDS OF CHICAGO, both album title and band name, which features a dozen new songs, mostly from the pen of JT (Jeremy Lindsay) with a couple written by Allison, each featuring their distinctively soulful combined voices, both of which effortlessly melt into the fabric of each of the compositions. 
The combined overall sound, peppered with contributions from many of the associated musicians in the JT and the Clouds and Po'Girl camps, collectively referred to here as the 'Circus Family', is not easily categorised; its funky rhythms, gospel choruses, country roots flavoured Americana and hot guitar solos all making for a richly textured whole. The whistled intro to Russell's sublime Before She Goes is as relaxed as the vocal performance that follows, a signature Po'Girl sound, but with that additional JT and the Clouds soulfulness. Not only does Alli contribute one of the most mellow songs on the album, she also provides a celebration of Carnival rhythms in the French language Sans Souci, literally meaning 'carefree', with the ukulele-led song calling us all to the dance floor. 

Whilst the waltz-time Galaxy Ballroom keeps us on the dance floor temporarily, albeit in a more intimate setting, the infectiously spirited Sugar Dumplin' offers a contrasting Cajun-inspired backdrop, which provides the album with an optimistically uplifting angle. If Old Calcutta asks some of life's burning questions, with equal measures of light and shade, the Birds of Chicago's maiden flight wouldn't be complete without the inclusion of JT's ode to home in Humboldt Crows, which possibly provides the true heart of the album.    

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky