Obviously, a band named Birds of Play has a penchant for bending words as well as musical notes, which would explain why they call their music “Americawna.” Get it? (Cawm’on. Puns are supposed to make you groan a little … .) But on their fourth album, Birdsongs of the American West, they get down to the serious business of delivering immaculately crafted songs rooted in the finest folk-bluegrass traditions.
Blending guitar, bass, mandolin, violin and close-harmony vocals, Birds of Play paints mesmerizing sonic portraits filled with intricate textures and subtle shadings, coupled with touching, thought-provoking lyrics inspired by the natural world, the human condition and the ever-changing nature of relationships.
In fact, the first track is called “Texture”; written by lead vocalist, guitarist and bassist Alex Paul, its lyrics set the tone for the album’s lovely contemplations.
If texture is the language of time
River carved canyons speak in eloquent rhyme
Rainfall the choir of a world intertwined
This land suggests something divine
Their creative spirits enriched by their homes in the mountains of Colorado and wide-open ranges of Wyoming, the quartet — also Jack Tolan on guitars, mandolin and vocals; Eric Shedd on bass, mandolin, guitar and vocals; and Anneke Dean on violin, guitar and vocals — communicates on a deep musical level that seems telepathic. On “Peace,” they flit from bluegrass to jazz and back, changing tempos and moods like hummingbirds change flowers.
Though Paul, who formed the band after winning a solo competition at the 2018 Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, wrote several of the album’s 11 tracks, each bandmate has a writing credit and sings lead on their song. Dean shines on the gorgeous “Stargazer,” while Shedd delivers a bittersweet “Paradox of Choice” and Tolan contributes the hypnotic “Numbers and Names.” The thoughtful, elegantly realized first single, “Aftermath,” written by Paul in 2021, is about finding grace and hope despite Covid-forced isolation.
Picking up flight patterns they launched with Murmurations Vol. 1 and Murmurations Vol. 2, Birdsongs of the American West soars on the sonic updrafts created by four human voices accompanied by four wooden instruments. And just like the songs of actual birds, it’s a fascinating symphony of beauty and wonder.
Birds of Play will support the album with a tour through the West and Pacific Northwest, starting July 20 at the Rochester Hotel’s Secret Garden in Durango, Colo. Check the band’s website at birdsofplaymusic.com/shows for info and ticket purchase links.
Thursday, July 20 – The Secret Garden at the Rochester Hotel, Durango, Colo.
Friday, July 21 – Creede Musical Arts Collective Festival, Creede, Colo.
Tuesday, July 25 – Haglund Ranch, Murray, Utah
Thursday, July 27 – Silver Moon Brewing, Bend, Ore.
Friday, July 28 – Revolution Hall, Portland, Ore.
Saturday, July 29 – Icicle Creek Center for the Arts, Leavenworth, Wash.
Wednesday, Aug. 2 – Frontier Home Concerts, Seattle, Wash.
Thursday, Aug. 3 – Kulshan Brewing Co. Trackside Beer Garden, Bellingham, Wash.
Friday, Aug. 4 – Birdsview Brewing Co., Concrete, Wash.
Saturday, Aug. – Matchwood Brewing Co., Sandpoint, Idaho
Sunday, Aug. 6 – Live at Andre’s, Nine Mile Falls, Wash.
Wednesday, Aug. 9 – 1912 Center, Moscow, Idaho
Thursday, Aug. 10 – Longstaff House, Missoula, Mont.
Friday, Aug. 11 – Bozeman Folk Society, Bozeman, Colo.
Sunday, Aug. 13 – Concert on the Commons, Teton Village, Wyo.
Friday, Aug. 25 – TACAW - The Arts Campus At Willits, Basalt, Colo.
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Public House, Crested Butte, Colo.
Wednesday, Aug. 30 – Freight, Leadville, Colo.
Thursday, Aug. 31 – Tres Litros Beer Co., Salida, Colo.
Friday, Sept. 1 – Four Corners Folk Festival, Pagosa Springs, Colo.