BARNESVILLE - The Birds of Chicago will appear on Friday, May 11, at the Albert S. George Youth Center in Barnesville Memorial Park. Doors will open at 7 p.m. and the show will begin at 8 p.m.
JT Nero is a strange and distinct songwriter - he lists Mark Twain and Sam Cooke among his biggest influences. He is a poet of the everyday and the absurd, the lonely, the hopeful and the semi-hopeful. He's got a fractured country soul croon, full of doo-wop ghosts and old time religion.
Whether touring with his muse and frequent collaborator, Allison Russell (Po' Girl), or backed by the scintillating Chicago rock n' soul outfit, the Clouds, Nero has emerged as one of the compelling new voices in American music. With the Clouds he's a rock n' roll preacher - on his own, he digs deeper into darker, often fantastical nuances of his work.
You might cry in your beer listening to Nero's Mountains/Forests - which features Russell and members of the Clouds - but you may not know exactly why you're crying. There's recognizable lonely hearts - but they float through dreamscapes populated by elephant kings, electric sea horses, sentimental gang bangers and dying honeybees. The instruments are largely of the back porch variety - plugged in axes were traded for acoustics, banjo, accordion - and the album was made in 4 days, in a cabin in Door County, Wisconsin.
There's not much Allison Russell can't sing, which is no surprise to many loyal Po' Girl fans. She's got a bit of the speakeasy chanteuse in her, a bit of old R&B, but with a delicacy and clarity of phrasing that Ma Carter or Loretta Lynn would surely approve of. She plays banjo, ukulele, guitar, and clarinet. She's also a top shelf whistler. She writes gorgeous, unpredictable songs, and makes other people's tunes - often Nero's - her own with startling ease.
As Birds of Chicago, Nero and Russell's gifts dovetail easily. Their harmony singing - not too perfect, not at all saccharin, set against a sparsely plucked backdrop - is a fine thing.
After the Mountains/ Forests tour, they will be in the studio, recording their first proper duo record, Birds of Chicago, Volume 1, due mid-2012. In the meantime, they will be, per usual, on the road - you won't have work too hard to get to a show - they'll find you.