CD Review of Magnolia by The Wooden Birds
The Wooden Birds: Magnolia
Recommended if you like
Jeff Buckley, Bon Iver, Iron and Wine
Label
Barsuk
The Wooden Birds:
Magnolia

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

A
s befits an album that lingered a long time on the proverbial back burner, the Wooden Birds’ debut offering takes a lowered gaze, courtesy of a sound that takes quite awhile to gestate. Initiated as a side project by Andrew Kenny, the creative stimulus behind indie icons the American Analog Set, the band was first conceived nearly two years ago, but is only now coming to fruition. Still, Magnolia has the aura of an album that’s yet to be fully conceived, what with Kenny’s hushed vocals barely holding their own against the plunking rhythms and an occasional easy amble.

In fact, it’s that gentle lope and sway which keeps the Wooden Birds airborne, even when they seem to falter. Magnolia begins on an agreeable note, with "False Alarm" and "The Other One" pervading good vibes and a lofty, wide-eyed gaze. By the time the set winds its way down to "Sugar" and the album’s midpoint, bookmarked by "Hometown Fantasy" and Choke," Kenny and crew – Songwriter David Wingo, guitarist/vocalist Chris Michaels and drummer Michael bell -- have settled into a meditative motif that stalls the forward thrust and mires the set in what seems to be some aimless meandering.

Fortunately, the music gets a bit more assertive throughout the remainder of the album, specifically when it comes to the steady surge of "Quit You Once," the unobtrusive stroll of "Never Know" and the insistent strut of "Anna Paula." Nevertheless, the arrangements remain decidedly subdued. Kenny even claims, in the press release that accompanies the advance copy of the album, that he pounded out the rhythm on his acoustic guitar. Regardless, the muted sound causes the listener to lean in that much closer and focus attention. Too laid back to enhance a party atmosphere and way too involving for mood music, Magnolia strikes a favorable balance in between.

Ultimately, the proceedings move beyond these contemplative sojourns, enabling the band to pick up the pace and actually score with some upbeat sentiments. In fact, the final two tracks on the album, "Seven Seventeen" and "Bad," find them gaining traction and actually almost sounding effusive. These two songs show evidence that there’s an energetic band lurking below the surface, one that has the power to up the ante on enthusiasm and create an indelible impression. Yes, Wooden Birds take time to gain altitude, but when they do, they genuinely soar.

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