Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Birdie Busch has one of those voices that draws you in on the first phrase and breathes you out at the end of the record. It's not devastatingly beautiful, brimming with venom, or capable of coaxing small birds from their nests, but it's as familiar as storm clouds in July and as easy to ingest as a small-town milkshake. Busch and her slightly funky, sometimes quirky, and always-relaxed backing band blow through 11 slices of East Coast humor, pathos, and earnest observation that treat the word "pretense" as if it never existed. From the gentle swing of "Cup" to the bluesy Randy Newman-esque closer "Room Above the City," The Ways We Try is so subtle in its execution that it may get lost among the bevy of louder, lamer, and more opulent acts of 2006, but if the business were fair, and the cream really did rise to the top, there would be one less employee doing the serving.
What's initially striking about Birdie Busch's endearing follow-up to The Ways We Try isn't her innocent voice, intimate songwriting, or lyrics that evoke a simple, more rustic way of life. It's her album art. Like the work of obscure folk artist James Hampton (who used scavenged materials to assemble a religious monument in his garage), Penny Arcade's cover features a wooden shadow box decorated with symmetrical stacks of pennies, plucked dandelions, gold foil wrappers, and cardboard religious paraphernalia. Take the shadow box apart, and you're left with nothing but pocket change, firewood, and trash. Piece it together, however, and the everyday objects fuse into something that's whimsical and unassuming, yet nonetheless engaging. Birdie Busch's sophomore offering of pop-laced Americana follows suit; while her voice doesn't resonate with the haunting beauty of Neko Case or strike the same nostalgic chord as Gillian Welch, its earnest delivery makes it one of the most affecting altos around. The Philly resident culls her songs from a place far less populated, where the highways and cheesesteaks of her native town are replaced by rivers, ridges, and tree-borne fruit. It's an interesting approach -- embracing the countryside from a metropolitan stance -- and Busch blocks out her urban surroundings with simple folk melodies, a minimalist country-leaning band, and her slight farmland drawl. The songs aren't necessarily lush, but there's still a lot to mine here, whether the listener is sifting though the pastoral psychedelic strains of "Wild Mountain Honey" (a swampy, banjo-led cover of the Steve Miller original) or nodding to the quirky lullabying lilt of "Clemency." "My heart, well, it's worn on the outside," Busch sings during the upbeat "Hold Ya." "And if I see something good, I'm gonna show ya; and if I hear something sweet, I'm gonna tell ya." That's a raison d'être shared by the world's best singer/songwriters, and Penny Arcade sets Busch down the right path to join their ranks.
“Pattern of Saturn”, Birdie’s third full length release, was recorded over the span of a year. Recorded in various Philly friends’ converted spaces from basements to bedrooms and even hijacking the local high school’s choir room for some piano additions, the result is both rootsy and inventive, bold yet intimate. Percussion goes from light-hearted carriage clip-clops to the chains of the ghost of Christmas past and guitars, both electric and acoustic, cover ground between country, classical, psychedelic, and blues without falling into the position of bland redux.
When asked about Pattern of Saturn Birdie said, “In a way, I wanted it to be a mix of blues and classical by way of melodic repetitions. One of the things I love so much about blues patterns and finger-picking is that you can kind of go in all different directions. Meanderings from these simple pathways can be so interesting and prancing but also trancey. The idea was in bringing melodic themes in and out from one song to another where it was so subtle you might not notice but you’ll feel it, that continuity and flow.”
But, like always, the stories and lyrics in the songs are just as much a focus. Subject matter ranges from Birdie taking on the voice of a Mexican dishwasher named Gabino to dealing with the modern problems of Internet password pile-up. The album title is taken from an instrumental piece that rests in the center of the recording and she included other instrumental pieces as well. It’s a broad spectrum but Birdie has always believed in our multitudes and found inspiration in gray areas and mulit-faceted emotions. The trick is how she seems to encapsulate it, as we find in writers like Neil Young and Paul Simon, in what feels like very buoyant and effortless attempts.
Put out on her own imprint Monotask Music, its her continuing effort to make music that always wanders in wonder but never wanders from her hopes to keep creating music that is of her voice. It’s music that grows with repeated listens and shows you different things in different moments, with words that can strike too close to home and melodies that never wear out.
Everyone Will Take You In, is a group of songs inspired by her hometown of Philadelphia. The project is the first release for the new label Be Frank Records, a Philadelphia label specializing in vinyl releases and digital availabilities.
“Fred Knittel of Be Frank Records and Folkadelphia has been a fan of ours since discovering our last record Pattern of Saturn. We share so much of the same joy and excitement for music past, present, and future that this project took a naturally serendipitous route from there” says Birdie.
The 45 will offer two songs. “Joey” is Birdie’s observations of the ethnic rifts in South Philly “…the hoagie’s a taco, oh Joey don’t act so macho…”. The b-side is her own interpretation of the Philly street corner group the Soul Survivors hit, “City of Brotherly Love”. Both of these songs as well as two other originals that cover culturally shifting neighborhoods and characters will be available digitally as part of the story that is presented in the intricate packaging for the single.
Philadelphia’s Birdie Busch, with the help of 137 patrons through PledgeMusic, has made her 4th full length album entitled Birdie Busch and the Greatest Night. Recorded over the summer of 2012 in studios in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, the new album was just released digitally to patrons in October, and is available here as now as well.
This recording gathers together what Birdie loves best: playing in a band with other like-minded folks where melody, rhythm, dynamic, and songwriting are all getting their time to shine.
While the group that makes up Birdie Busch and the Greatest Night have toured and recorded a lot together in the past year, this was the first project that allowed them all to devote a week to focused recording, arranging and experimenting. The full band recorded live with Nathan Sabatino, the engineer for Dr.Dog’s Be the Void, and then cut vocals and mixed at the Honey Jar with Devin Greenwood in DUMBO. “Everything was happening at once, the feeding off of each other’s energies, the guitar licks calling and responding, the eye contact, the instantaneous reactionary arrangements”. “Best recording experience ever” says Birdie, “we recorded the band live, with all the instruments leaking and the band just peaking”.
The new recordings show growth, maturity, and risk taking. The instrumentation is lush, yet angular and muscular, with prog rock textures, psychedelic references, trippy vocal effects and instrumental interludes, all fronted by a woman with a ‘58 Kay. With the propulsive rhythm section in songs like “Part of Apart”, there are transcendent moments when the band achieves acceleration and lift, a transfiguration, and a reaching in, and out, and up. There’s lots going on in these recordings and they only fully reveal more with each listen.
I started writing this song in the apex of summer trying to kind of reign in a lot of things that I was thinking about the summer and seasons in general. Not only universalisms but how my very specific life has come to inform them for me. As an artist who works service jobs in Philly, the summer is slow, slower than slow, in a way that breeds an anxiousness about getting by as I slog through the humidity, jumping in city fountains mid-journey while the oversize statues in the center look through me stonedly. There is a simultaneous freeness and tenseness here, migrations both inward and outward into the heart of the beast.
It’s about smells that are smellier, bike rides that are sweatier, and time that seems heavier. Childhood nostalgia can reign supreme. Were the cicadas louder then or was I just smaller, or was my hearing better and less ringing? Can I ever recapture that feeling of pure electricity of swimming with boys I liked in public pools as a teenager? How can I return to that feeling that comes in pretended sleep when you feel your parent picking you up and carrying you into the house after a long drive back from the lake? There is so much to remember. But also so much to do and so much we are moving away from or towards.
The summer sun was a burning force. Alot of light also means a lot of dust. All becomes the color of rust about this time but not before exploding into fire and then rolling closer towards the winter. What are you leaving? What have you decided? Where have you arrived? Where are you going? As also, can I come with you? I have a song we can put on the mix for that trip :)
Enjoy this epic song, it’s our longest yet, with a built in seasonal sonic shift ending that perhaps you should lie down for?
Thunder Bridge marks Birdie Busch’s 5th full length release. The title is a nod to a line from one of her favorite Sun Ra poems, “We Must Not Say No to Ourselves”. Recorded in Germantown, the same neighborhood in Philadelphia that Sun Ra spent a lot of his musical journey, Thunder Bridge is an album by kindreds for kindreds. The original plan was to make songs for fellow friend and Philly visual artist Alison Dilworth at the oncoming dawn of motherhood. It was meant to help cross a threshold between here and there while also keeping a sense of the everywhere and always intact. But this isn’t a “lullaby” record, although Birdie’s spirit and intention can often infuse things with a sense of a night’s closing mantra. And this isn’t a “kid’s music” record, although children can often be found singing a line from her songs, in the kind of way that children always seem to be tapped into genuine truth telling. In the end, this record became an album for not only a single friend, but for many in Birdie’s inner fold who had needed cathartic release and a gathering round of the wagons.
Thunder Bridge was recorded with her close-knit band, featured on her last effort Birdie Busch and the Greatest Night and added to the mix Jaron Olevsky (Amos Lee) as a collaborator in both playing and production. The result is an 8-song affair that marries Birdie’s inclination for melodic and sonic meandering with conciseness of form and feeling-distillation. The record features 3-string busted cellos, vintage drum machines, and a rainbow-keyed Gibson organ whose distinct tones create a very particular soundscape for the body of work. A record of brevity, much like classics were in the golden age of vinyl, you can find yourself listening to this several times over fairly quickly. The many listens feel non-repetitive, more like a cyclical exercise in re-centering yourself.