The “members” of Redbird would like you to know that it is not a group; rather, Redbird is what happens when three friends get together and make music. There is a forth friend who lends support on electric guitar and contributes one original tune, an instrumental. Redbird is more than worth hearing, because the three friends are Peter Mulvey, Kris Delmhorst, and Jeffrey Foucault. The forth friend is David Goodrich, who is less known because he does not sing, but he is a fine, supportive player. Every year for the last five, these friends have gotten together at the end of the year for four shows at Café Carpe in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. This album is culled from the 2008 and 2009 shows. I would not call this album a document of these shows. In the interest of including as much music as possible, the decision was made to leave out most of the stage patter between songs. So, the listener does not precisely get the feel of these shows. On the other hand, these certainly are not polished studio performances either. The intimate quality of a show at a small venue has been left in, so there is applause and some audience noise, and there are comments by the musicians. In a couple of spots, the musicians seem to get a barely suppressed case of the giggles. What comes through is the enormous talent of the artists, their level of comfort with one another, and the energy they receive from the crowd.
The format of the album, and I presume the shows as well, is a song swap. One artist starts things off with a song, and that reminds the next artist of another song, and so on. Usually in a song swap, an artist will start a song alone, and then the others will find their parts, entering tentatively at first, and then singing and playing more confidently as the song goes on. That often happens here as well, but there are also songs that Mulvey, Foucalt and Delmhorst have played together often enough that the confidence is there from the beginning. The guitar styles of the three also have a bearing on things. Mulvey started out busking in the Boston subways, so he developed a guitar style that fills space to compete with the noise of the trains. Foucault has a blues and country background, and he plays a lot of lead lines. Delmhorst has a classic folk approach, where her voice is the lead instrument, and she plays a rhythm guitar part to accompany herself; that means that it is easiest for the others to join in on the songs Delmhorst starts, so her songs come together faster than the others. Stewart’s Coat is one of these, and it is the finest ensemble performance on the album. I particularly enjoyed the call-and-response vocals at the end of the song.
It is fairly easy to talk about the songs each artist starts, even though each only contributes one original song to the album. Mulvey contributes three upbeat numbers, but his ballad selection is one of the albums highlights, a beautiful take on Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies. Foucault brings the album to a rousing close with his own 4 & 20 Blues, and also contributes another uptempo number and a country ballad. He also starts the two ensemble numbers, Ships and a goofy cowrite by all of the artists involved, Phonebooth of Love. For this one, the musicians are joined by Barry Rothman on harmonica. Phonebooth of Love is a piece of strange humor spoken over a tight blues groove. Delmhorst’s contributions are four ballads, all rendered beautifully. There is also an instrumental ballad by David Goodrich, Snowed In.
So the balance of faster and slower numbers is perfect here. The energy level is consistently high, as is the musicianship. When you’re in the mood to listen to live folk music, this album would make a fine choice. Live at the Carpe Café comes out on January 25. Keep an eye out for it.
Redbird: Stewart‘s Coat