Birds of Chicago’s new record celebrates love through gospel, soul, rock, folk and early jazz

JT Nero and Allison Russell blend love and wanderlust in their musical lives

Individually, Allison Russell and JT Nero earned their stripes as road warriors in the 2000s with eclectic bands — Po’ Girl for Russell, JT & the Clouds and the Capital Sun Rays for Nero — whose Americana-infused musicality thrilled audiences almost as much as their go-for-broke performance passion. Since teaming in 2012 as Birds of Chicago, the now married duo have created an entity that transcends those dynamic parts with a personal and creative alchemy uniquely suited for this cultural moment.

Recently relocated to Nashville, the peripatetic Birds spent most of their time in recent years winging around North American and European festivals with a young daughter in tow. Onstage, Russell alternates between playing clarinet and banjo, and sways and sings (occasionally in French) with deepening fervor as Nero shadows her in close, raspy harmony.

Songs like “Dim Star of the Palisades” and the title track of their Joe Henry-produced 2016 album “Real Midnight” elegantly showcased Russell’s full-throated vocals as well as the Dylan-esque poetic consciousness of Nero’s songwriting. “Love in Wartime,” released in May and co-produced by Nero and North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson, is at once more muscular and looser, in the spirit of north star influences The Band, Grateful Dead and the Staple Singers. Embracing gospel, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, folk and early jazz, the album unabashedly celebrates love (“There are songs to find and oh, there’s a baby to feed/ …This is our love, love in wartime/ White flowers in a red sky”) with songs that choose hope
over fear.

— Bliss Bowen

Birds of Chicago headlines an 8 p.m. Friday (Nov. 30) double bill at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Former Elephant Revival frontman Daniel Rodriguez opens. Tickets are $20. Call (310) 828-4497 or visit birdsofchicago.com.

Share