Birds of Chicago have been riding a swell of good mojo in the Americana scene since their inception in late 2012. With their new album, Love in Wartime, they are set to both confirm that roots world buzz, and break on through to a much wider audience.
Recorded in Chicago against a backdrop of bewilderment, deep divide and dread, Love in Wartime is a rock and roll suite with a cinematic sweep. Co-produced with Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), it evokes epic efforts of the 60’s and 70’s, with love as the undeniable through-line.
Built around the chemistry and fire between Allison Russell and JT Nero, and their rock-steady band, BOC tours hard. Russell and Nero played with different bands in the mid-aughts (Po’ Girl and JT and the Clouds) before finding their way to each other. Nero, who writes the bulk of the songs, found himself a transcendent vocal muse in Russell (a powerful writer herself) and the band honed its chops on the road, playing 200 shows a year between 2013-17. All that shaping and sharpening, over so many miles, led them back to Chicago’s Electrical Audio in January of 2017, to begin recording Love in Wartime. “Any act of love is an act of bravery,” says Russell.. We want to give people some good news. And we want them to be able to dance when they hear it.”
Their most recent releases include 2016’s Joe Henry-produced Real Midnight and 2017’s EP American Flowers, BOC’s debut from the label Signature Sounds Recordings. Critics have searched for the right words to describe Real Midnight’s deep lyricism, gut-punch singing and musicality…. “Secular gospel” was one phrase that caught some traction. That fervor is evident in Love and Wartime as well:
“Roll Away the heavy stone/roll away the heavy hours/roll on in the summer moon/who’s alive who’s alive who’s alive?”
The invitation is joyous, but urgent. There’s another phrase that they used to describe poetry intoned over roots music mash-ups: Rock n Roll. The Birds consider themselves a rock and roll band first and foremost, and Love in Wartime doesn’t leave any doubt about that.
Birds’ shows attract a mix of indy rockers, jam-kids and Americana/roots lovers, mixing moments of hushed attention with wild, rock and soul abandon. Says Nero, “a good show can send you back out into the night feeling — for at least a little while – that everything isn’t broken.”
These days, that’s no small thing.