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The Life Of Birds

June 28, 2010 by  

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The Life Of Birds

David Rotheray ‘David Rotheray’s The Life Of Birds’ out 16th August 2010 on Proper Records. Single ‘The Sparrow, The Thrush & The Nightingale’ released 9th August 2010 onProper Records //

Acclaimed and much-loved songwriter David Rotheray releases his first solo album ‘The Life Of Birds’ in August. Although it features a whole host of performers, ‘The Life Of Birds’ is entirely Rotheray’s record, a series of autumnal, rustic reflections on life with some astonishing collaborations.

The seed for the album came about with opening track and first single ‘The Sparrow, The Thrush & The Nightingale’, a laidback, upbeat melody with an instantly recognisable whistled refrain disguising an allegorical tale about greed. Deciding to enlist the services of respected folk singer Jim Causley to add juxtaposing vigour to the seething, bilious lyrics, Rotheray hit upon the idea of expanding the metaphor to write an entire album with birds as its loose notional concept, and calling upon some of the UK’s finest folk singer-songwriters to flesh out the music he had written. The result is fourteen superbly crafted songs that touch on some sensitive subjects with subtlety and grace – although Rothery is quick to point out “all pigeons described … are entirely fictitious, and any resemblance to chaffinches, living or dead, is entirely coincidental!”

Having written all the lyrics, Rotheray’s roll call of vocalists on ‘The Life Of Birds’ is an impressive one. Kathryn Williams, a former Mercury Music Award nominee who also appears on Chris Difford’s new album, lends her restrained yet beguiling vocals to ‘Crows, Ravens & Rooks’, a cautionary tale of jeopardising monogamy. ‘The Road To The South’ is a clever lyrical reflection on friends of Hull-born Rotheray who have “migrated to London” sung with real regret by Eliza Carthy, who has performed and recorded with Paul Weller, Nick Cave and Joan Baez. Carthy also appears and plays miniature guitar on ‘Cover Your Garden Over’, a song about the ‘X-Factor’ culture of short-termism and self-gratification we live in.

Particularly powerful is a pair of numbers that unflinchingly address the issue of Alzheimer’s disease. The almost tragicomic ‘Sweet Forgetfulness’, sung by the French-Irish performer Camille O’Sullivan, is performed from the point of view of someone with no good memories to lose. Yet the staggeringly sad ‘Almost Beautiful’ sees Eleanor McEvoy document a loved-one slipping into mental illness to heartbreaking effect – Rotheray notes of the downbeat recording session that “we all went for a drink after this one.”

McEvoy also co-writes ‘Living Before The War’, a desolate folk-ballad about the pitfalls of sexuality for teenage girls, sung by Bella Hardy. Hardy – an established folk singer with two well-received albums behind her – crops up several times on the record, duetting with Causley on ‘The Hummingbird On Your Calendar’ and singing on ‘The Digital Cuckoo’, a song that Rotheray admits had been “kicking around for years, but with no chorus” until she got involved. Julie Murphy’s haunting turn on the piano-led ‘Taller Than Me’ strips the music right back as the lyrics detail a parent watching their now-adult children grow ever older. Nat Johnson – whose debut was made Single Of The Week by Steve Lamacq in late 2008 – brings her more upbeat stylings to ‘Flying Lessons’.

While most of the album uses female singers to great effect, Jack L’s swooning, regret-tinged vocal on ‘The Best Excuse In The World (Is The Truth)’ is a perfect fit for the ambiguous tale of a middle-aged man who may have left it too late to come out of the closet. Alasdair Roberts – better known in folk circles for recording under the alias Appendix Out – brings a more traditionally gothic-celtic feel to ‘Draughty Old Fortress’, a song challenging the notion that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’.

The album concludes as it starts, with Causley returning for ‘The Sparrow, The Thrush & The Nightingale – Part II”. Bringing the record and its themes full circle, Rotheray admits that the two parts of the song satisfy “a long standing ambition to write an album with ‘bookends’.”

In a career that has taken him from forming The Beautiful South with Paul Heaton in the late 1980s to his critically-acclaimed acoustic side project Homespun, Dave Rotheray’s name has always been synonymous with music that mixes the melancholy with dry humour to great effect. On ‘The Life Of Birds’, Rotheray has succeeded in crafting an album where the emphasis is firmly on songwriting, with some of the best lyrics and most beautiful music of his career.



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