Songs like “Teeth” and “Beneath Your Tree” ride pumps from a rustic drum kit and pulses from Beth Tacular’s accordion upon which her and Moore create some of the most heart-wrenching harmonies. The two create the kind of vocal performance in which you don’t care about the subject matter, you just want them to keep singing at any cost. These are vocal talents that make “oh oh oh” on “Ghost Life” sound like the most joyous, beautiful thing your poor ears have ever heard. It almost makes you feel cheated when one or the other takes a solo. The trio makes a return trip to the Mill on July 20 with opener Megafaun.
The sophomore release from North Carolina’s Bowerbirds opens simply and unassumingly with an acoustic guitar and the voice of lead singer Phil Moore. Upper Air isn’t making a grand statement, nor is it declaring a grand departure from the group’s debut Hymns for a Dark Horse, it is quietly calling your attention. Quiet seems like the key adjective here. While the band is capable of bucolic swells, they often crescendo calmly and gradually on gentle acoustic strums and long, warm breaths from the accordion.
Upper Air asserts its difference quietly as well. Moore built much of Hymns for a Dark Horse on earthy metaphors (see album stand-out “In Our Talons”), and he hasn’t shied away from them on Upper Air, however, he’s favoring a more literal lyrical bent. “Silver Clouds” reads like a journal in which Moore airs grievances with either his parents or a former lover, “you can’t seem to not / tally it up, so we’ll know the score.” The spare finger-picked guitar compliments Moore’s confessional, but “Silver Clouds” feels slight and almost insulting when most of the other nine cuts utilize the Bowerbirds’ finest talent: vocal harmonies.