Bird Mancini provide many nice atmosphers on Tuning In/Tuning Out

Another release from Bird Mancinci, the husband and wife team of Billy Carl Mancini and Ruby Bird, finds the duo again in top form and again stretching their own boundaries. Tuning In/Tuning Out maintains the usual qualities of their CDs. This time around, though, they show more of their Beatles influence, get a little bit edgier, and their lyrics get a little bit quirkier.

There’s a tune here called “(I Want My Own) Brian Epstein” and yes, the song is about The Beatles’ manager who committed suicide in the mid-1960s. Written by Mancini, the song is about an artist crying out for a manager to take care of his business interests as well as Epstein took care of The Beatles. It is a fun song in which Bird Mancini get away with wearing their Beatles’ influence on their sleeve. They have a Ringo Starr style drumbeat from Larry Harvey, and, Bird’s accordion sustains reminds of the Fab Four’s experimental 60s material. Mancini even stretches his timbre to sound Lennonesque. The couple are actually clever enough to pull this off, sounding more like homage than copycats.

Bird contributes the beautiful “Didn’t Last Long, Did It” and it is masterpiece pastiche of 1920s jazz elements. It makes you picture the jazz era and The Great Gatsby years. Clarinet and bass clarinet, alto and tenor sax, all from one player, Cliff Tetle brings the melody lines home with his tasteful, elegant playing. Bird also recruited for this one song upright bass player Ken Steiner, ukulele player Glenn Williams, and they all work wonders around Bird’s accordion progressions. This song makes one long for a simpler decade, when musicians had time to work with multitudes of beautiful melody lines over jaunty rhythms.

Opening title track “Tuning In/Tuning Out” explodes with sound at the beginning. Bird sings in her girlish timbre, sustaining vocal notes sweetly, appealingly, and Mancini’s guitar and harmonica rock right out. There’s a lot of snap, crackle, and pop going on, and the couple load this one up with plenty of sounds and they’re all good. Mancini’s guitar phrases are heavy duty, coming out of nowhere and suddenly building up strong. Each song on the whole Tuning In/Tuning Out CD has its own unique architecture. Bird Mancini create more atmospheres and soundscapes with the use of the instruments they’ve always used. They just stretch those uses here.

“Green Walls” features solid acoustic guitar and Mancini’s voice sounding a bit Lennonesque again in his pop music drawl. He does a fine job layering this one. It is also interesting how he uses different instruments and dynamics to build a song up. Acoustic guitar and accordion usher this one in gently and firmly, but the tune eventually gets taken over by electric guitar and edgy accordion. “Northridge” truly has ethereal beauty in Bird’s voice, which is a little bit silkier here and Mancini’s background coos are dreamy and washy. His voicing does much to augment, in contrast, what Bird can do vocally. Between the contrast of vocals, that soundscape atmosphere comes into play again. Mancini creates many nice atmospheres with his electric picking style, single notes, brittle, resonate with tone. He also bends and sustains notes in a way that creates something greater than the individual notes. Sven Larson’s electric upright provides this song’s smooth, eloquent flow of low end, which blends in with while also supporting the atmosphere.

Bird and Mancini do some vocal magic on “Because It’s December.” Mancini’s voice rides it range on this one in a sensitive tone on some verses moments before getting edgier on his hooky chorus. Drama comes from his shifting dynamics and timbres and he just grabs your ear when he belts “because it’s December. The couple’s tune “Truth” rocks things up a bit. The guitar and organ have a distinctive 60s R&B influence yet the beat is pure rock and roll fun and the chorus has that glory feel of a gospel choir.

Bird Mancini offer a lot to the ear. On “Bridge Street” Bird’s svelte voice paves the way for a gentle push of understated accordion. Mancini’s easy going drawl fills out the love song lyrics of “Written In The Stars” and he powers a Peter Green influenced instrumental called “Green Jam” with his guitar darting around John Bridge’s bass and Larry Harvey’s drums. The CD closes out with “Raindrops” in which Mancini plays lovely bass notes and his manipulation of a glockenspiel puts this CD a cut above what most local bands are doing these days.
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