Ordinarily, I listen an album to death before reviewing it. There’s a lot to gain through repetition that one couldn’t possibly pick-up upon first hearing something. Multiple listenings make it easier to explore that depth of songwriting and nuance us reviewers are always talking about… so naturally, I won’t be doing that today. I’m giving you all my first impression based on the fact that until this is posted, that’s all I can give you. I’ve listened through this album once and once only.
Before I get into that, I have absolutely no desire to continuously write out the name Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies every time I mention the band by name, so I’ll be referring to them as ‘John’ from here on in.
After my first listen, there’s something lingering in the back of my mind that I just can’t shake. It’s an image of Paul Simon dancing the samba on a beach in a silk rainbow blouse with maracas in either hand. There’s a palm tree to his left and a tiki shack to his right, but Paul Simon doesn’t give a fuck. Why? You ask. It’s because he’s listening to his latest triumphant album – this one. The opening track, Hit a Wall, is the soundtrack to this dancing scene. It’s short, sweet, and does the job of setting the stage with a carnival flare.
This is John live in Bewley’s Café Theatre.
There’s a River is a change of pace. It’s more along the lines of what you’d expect from the folksy singer/songwriter sect. Being a writer, of course I’m going to be interested in the lyrics, which in folk, tend to go a little further than your average Nicki Minaj tune – this is no exception. A Garfunkelesque harmony and floating melody in the chorus are their vessels. The keys are beautifully upbeat, and with the building brass adding another level, it’s a contender for my favourite track on the album. Laughter in Sleep is another standout for me. The guitar work and keys just blend so seamlessly from verse into a catchy, melodic chorus. The string ensemble toward the end is absolutely perfect. John has my curiosity; now it’s time to win over my interest.
Nire Maxuxta is a pretty little tune. I would analyse the lyrics, but I won’t. On second thoughts, I’ll speculate. It’s Euskara for My Maxi Twist; it’s a beautiful love song about a HB ice-cream. Now, I am only guessing here, because obviously, I don’t speak Basque. Although, if I’m being cynical,when you have a song written in Basque, it’s probably about Basque independence, so Askatasuna to that, or something.
Up Until Sunrise is as close to a 70s Dylan track as you can come without having to sit through Zimmerman convincing you he’s a cowboy – say from Blood on the Tracks. Musically, it bears some resemblance to Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, which happens to be one of my favourite songs of all time, so it’s another thumbs up. Roll Out the Cannon is a carnival of a song. The western violin, banjo, walking bassline, piano, and horns all throw their two cents into the overall sound of the track. I’d half expect to hear it in a saloon, if Dick Van Dyke’s one man band took a tour of the frontier. It’s all inclusive and it’s as deliriously happy as the video for the Safety Dance. Expect bearded ladies and strongmen.
The Pigeon Lord is a departure. The jamboree is done and we’ve gone high-concept. It could be 50 Ways to Leave Your Pigeon in the verses. Quite frankly, in the time it’s taken to type this far, I’ve forgotten exactly what it sounds like and my notes are a bit useless. Give me a few moments.
Okay, so I listened to it again, big fucking deal. I reckon I was spot-on with the above, so we’ll continue. With an array of sounds like bicycles and cowbells, I’m not sure you could disagree. I will, however, underline the fact that the piano piece is excellent. As far as I’m concerned, it wouldn’t be out of place at the ballet or the opera.
It’s a strong finish and my hat has to go off to John. They’ve delivered more often than not and there’s very little to fault them on. I strongly recommend giving them the time to listen, because it’s not often you’ll get the chance to hear music like this, at this high a quality.
The album’s due out on May 1st, so head off to https://harrybirdandtherubberwellies.bandcamp.com/ and check them out.