Personnel: Heather Masse (vocals, tambourine); Lyle Brewer (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, baritone guitar); Jed Wilson (piano, Wurlitzer organ, glockenspiel).
Audio Mixer: Kent Heckman.
Recording information: Red Rock Recording Studio, Saylorsburg, PA.
Bird Song may be singer/songwriter Heather Masse's first solo album, but she had already made a mark in more than one place before its release, as a member of folk trio the Wailin' Jennys (replacing Annabelle Chvostek after the group's third album) and as the frontwoman for rootsy New York band Heather & the Barbarians. Following a solo EP, Bird Song represents Masse's first major bid to present herself as a full-fledged, name-above-the-title auteur. She wisely puts her best foot forward by keeping the focus on her lush, velvety vocals, capable of melting butter in a Siberian winter. The arrangements, led by the sympathetic accompaniment of keyboardist Jed Wilson and lithe-fingered guitarist Lyle Brewer, are mostly sparse, but when the band takes a moment to stretch out, as on closing cut, "Mittens," things get appreciably brighter. Intentionally or not, Masse seems to be coming up to bat in the next-Norah Jones game that's been so ubiquitous at the female-troubadour end of the music business since the latter's ascendance, and she moves distinctly away from the overt Americana sound of her work with the Barbarians here. Interestingly, the most successful moments on the album are the ones where she either embraces those Americana roots wholeheartedly -- the rockabilly train-beat-driven "High-Heeled Woman," the folk-spiritual "Over the Mountain," and the ones where she abandons them entirely, going for an atmospheric effect that owes little to traditional stylistic templates ("Chosen," "Be My Sailor." It's the tracks where she gets caught in between these two approaches that are the least memorable here, coming off as pretty-but-watery versions of a sound you've heard elsewhere many times that was never particularly resonant to begin with. Heading toward the extreme ends of the spectrum would seem to be the best way forward for Masse from here. ~ J. Allen