Laurie Lewis,
Birdsong
(Spruce & Maple, 2002)

Laurie Lewis is for the birds.

At least, Lewis is willing to sing for them. Birdsong is a simple, laidback album about birds and dedicated to their preservation. Album sales help to support Audubon Canyon Ranch, a network of preserved woodlands, wildlife sanctuaries and educational centers based in Stinson Beach, Calif.

The music is a light blend of folk and country, and every song -- as you might guess -- is about birds in some way. Lewis draws on various sources for her songs, but one particularly nice offering, "The Wood Thrush Song," is her own. It's presented a cappella, a blend of four somber voices (Lewis plus three for harmony), and it mourns the loss of avian habitat with a lonely, desolate sound.

"When the Night Bird Sings," an optimistic song by Mark Simos, benefits from Jim Horn's subtle soprano sax in the background. "Singing Bird," a traditional Irish song, is converted here to an old-timey song, with Lewis's fiddle and Tod Rozum's mandolin pushing the Appalachian sound. "Haven of Mercy," also by Lewis, shifts into gospel bluegrass, while "Acony Bell" by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings is pure country twang, as is Carol McComb's "Little Birds."

There is a lonely beauty to Terry and Phoebe Gilkyson's "Solitary Singer," which achieves a stark air with the aid of Philip Aaberg's bassy piano and Darol Anger's subtle fiddle. The album ends with a despairing traditional song, "The Blackest Crow," with Anger providing a melancholy string backdrop for Lewis's haunting voice.

The music is good, low-key folk/country with a theme and cause. That should be enough of a reason to check it out -- and help build a nest egg for birds in danger of losing their homes.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 6 March 2004

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