By Bill Copeland on March 27, 2013
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Bird Mancini has found a new focus on bossa nova and other music from Brazil. The pair have always had an interest, but this time around they’ve gathered everything they’ve worked in on that genre and dedicated an album to it. Hence, Bird Mancini Lounge, a collection of jazzy, breezy songs with a distinctly South American flavor. None of these songs ever come on strong, yet each has a hypnotic charm that soon works its magic, beckoning the listener to follow along with each note. It’s easy to picture people in coffee shops turning their heads toward the speakers as this plays and asking the owner or manager where they can get a copy.
Ruby Bird composed the album’s opening number “If You Wanna Get to Know Me.” A Brazilian laced accordion melody sweeps through with a charm as Latin as the ever present percussion pieces swishing in the backdrop. Spanish guitar notes waltz around the accordion and percussion with a self-contained machismo. Over all that, Mrs. Bird unfurls her gentle vocal sustains and sweet exhortations.
The rest of the album is written by Ruby Bird’s husband Billy Carl Mancini. His songwriter styles differs slightly from Mrs. Bird, but he too is wading through Spanish American waters. “The Listener” remains fairly typically Mancini territory, his vocal assertions gliding over a lot of melodic textures. Yet, he has injected Bird’s flavorful accordion, Cliff Tetle’s tenor saxophone and Eric Michael Kelley’s conga and other exotic percussion instruments to conjure the feel, if not the exact sound, of Brazil. This one is a swirl of musical ear candy.
“Bridge 51” features both members of Bird Mancini in a lovely vocal harmony. Yet, this is Ruby Bird’s lead vocal song, and she finely applies her lovely lilt to this peaceful, gently swaying number. Her accordion is still working its magic after three tracks, and it sounds great.
Mancini get more assertive at the microphone on “You Don’t Know What I’m Saying,” singing in a an even handed flow that might remind some of Steely Dan. The piano line Ruby Bird taps out underneath his voice is delightfully peppy, infusing the number with a playful bounce that makes it as alluring as Mancini’s handsome vocal. Bob McCloskey’s cubical tugs the ear with a see-sawing, gritty, exotic rhythmic swing that compels one to listen closely and to try to imagine what that instrument is.
“What Gets Me This Way?” finds Mancini picking the sweetest, most roots electric guitar lines on the album. Listeners will want to listen to him play in this style all day. Ruby Bird presses out a constant, pleasant accordion hum. This one gets by on share talent and charismatic instrumentation.
“Midway Dream Café” floats by like a warm gentle summer breeze. The Spanish guitar notes play out brittle and enticing as Bird and Mancini caress their vocal notes with subtle emotive injections, especially in their sweet coos and sustains. Another plus: Mauro Tortolero slaps out an interesting allure in his conga patterns and saxophonist Bob McCloskey plays a stirring melodic horn line.
Mancini’s Spanish guitar influences impact his picking style on “Jet Setting In Morocco.” He has a way of letting one note drift into the one he’s about to pick. It’s pure beauty. The Latin flavor from bass player Sven Larson and drummer David Roy Kulik couldn’t be better in its mildly pushy accents on the beat. Bird charmingly croons her way through this one with easeful grace, her naturally tender vocal timbre fits the mood here like a glove. And, again, it’s Bird’s subtle application of her accordion sustains that take it to an even higher level, making it exotic and fetching.
“Pond Life” has a lot going on during its mellow down tempo glide. Bird and Mancini trade lead vocal lines to give the piece a lilting female-male conversational tone. His well picked south of the border acoustic guitar notes dart around the beat tenderly, and her harmonica blows forlorn melody lines that make you feel yourself moving through time to the scene they set. Curt Naihersey does something special with his frame drum and ebow, injecting exotic tones and unusual punctuations with his odd meters.
Another instrumental “Patagonia” is a multi-statement of musical bliss. Nimble, high-pitched acoustic guitar notes ring out with feeling within their sophisticated pattern. Intervals of exotic notes swirl out of the accordion. The playing techniques get more intense as the emotion of the piece becomes more passionate. One is forced to picture Mancini picking away and fingering his fret board as he pays out more sophisticated intervals of sharp, nappy notes.
A gently swaying electric guitar chord progression sweeps the listener into “Somedays,” a mellow waltz studded with Larson’s knobby bass knolls and Eric Michael Kelly’s myriad of percussion instruments. The two vocalists skate over the musical surface like they’re powered by a summer breeze, moving slowly, but surely, with purpose, a leisurely pace that these players fill in well.
Ruby bird is a vocal gem on “Northridge,” a song laced with nuanced rhythmic underpinnings and all sorts of gently spiraling melodies. Bird’s vocal application perfectly matched the dreamy like musical passage underneath her. It’s just a sweet song that carries one away with its swirl of colors and tones.
The album closes out with the more uptempo, rocking beat of “Running To You(Coda).” Mancini funks things up a bit with his riffy electric chords as Bird unleashes a serious smoky organ line. This is musical exploration worthy of the album’s whole as well as a bracing finale.
Bird Mancini have much to be proud of here. Not only did they stretch their sound in an entirely different direction, they did so with class and distinction for an entire album. This Latin American exploration will mark an important chapter in their musical development. Bravo!
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