Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Album Review: "The Clearing" by Bowerbirds

The Clearing by Bowerbirds was released on
March 5, 2012 on Dead Oceans
Bowerbirds have been a staple of the Carolina music scene for years now, but never before have they released a project as ambitious as The Clearing.  Filled with rich textures, Bowerbirds have done a fantastic job at maintaining their rustic sound while filling in their soundscape with fantastic instrumentation including cellos, violins, trombones, and much more.  With a huge album release show at The Cat's Cradle on Saturday March 17, the band will finally get a much needed celebration for this fantastic release.  Fellow North Carolina folk-duo/couple of Mandolin Orange will be opening, providing for what is sure to be a mesmerizing evening with two of the state's finest acts.

While this album can be viewed as their most ambitious, it's clearly that way for a reason as a lot has gone on within the band since their last album.  Phil and Beth had what was explained as a "disaster chapter" before the making of The Clearing, the two had broken up for a year before getting back together and Beth had severe health issues, it seems like the issues just piled on top of one another before finally everything came back to fruition.  This stressful period is abundantly clear when listening to the album and the band did a phenomenal job at painting this vivid picture of such an important time in their lives.

The Clearing jumps in head first with "Tuck The Darkness In", a track that immediately lets you know that this isn't going to be an album in the same vein as their previous two.  "Tuck The Darkness In" covers the familiar topic of death and loss, an image that can be found throughout the album.  Phil laments   , "Oh my dear, everything falls to death/We tuck the darkness in", and conveys their perseverance perfectly within these two lines.  The two were acting as a band while no longer being in a relationship, and the emotional toll it took on the two can be found in bunches within the album.  However, they're not wallowing in their loss rather than pushing through the hard times and seeing the light.  "What we miss, we miss/And what we see is what we get", sings Phil on "Now We Hurry On", and it's lyrical gems like this that are scattered throughout the album that make it so joyous to listen to.

While The Clearing is highlighted by all of the new sounds that Bowerbirds are creating, they've also shown a mastery of their older styles.  The two have never sounded better together with their beautiful harmonies, however they take new light when they're encompassed by the vast and rich orchestration found within this album.  The lyrics are oozing with sincerity, and whether it be Phil or Beth pouring out their souls it is clear that this is a much more deliberate album than their previous works.  It's a much more polished record, but it still retains their roots.  Tracks like "Overcome With Light" shed that massive sound and focus more on the simplicities that brought Bowerbirds into the spotlight to begin with.  It also serves as the perfect juxtaposition to the darkness that is conveyed through the album.   It touches on the necessary woes that we all go through, rather it be within a relationship or within all of the worries of life itself.  "And how I know I'm happy now", the two have embraced their "scrapes" and accepted that one must experience these things in order to truly appreciate the joys that come afterwards.

Bowerbirds have truly outdone themselves with their third album, The Clearing.  They've crafted an expansive folk record that chronicles the maturity that the duo has gained within the past few years of their life.  Much like their hand built cabin in the woods of North Carolina, these two have created a stellar structure from the ground-up.  They've maintained a sturdy foundation with their rustic influences, even crafting lines from Robert Frost and Bob Dylan and turning them into phrases of their own, while expanding upon their sound in a logical and truly entrancing manner.  You can check out the mini-documentary on The Clearing below:

About "The Clearing" by Bowerbirds from Secretly Jag on Vimeo.

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