Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies – Bricks and Feathers | Review

Described on their homepage as ‘a folk micro-label’, this is the third album for HARRY BIRD AND THE RUBBER WELLIES.

Opener, Hit a Wall in Me, plunges straight into an instrumental. When the vocals emerge, the harmonisation is reminiscent of a jubilant church choir. The banjo accompanies such Americanisms as, “William, where you at?” The singer here is at once a peacemaker, and brimming with defiance. It is a fleeting sunburst of joyousness.

There’s a River has a mellower opening.. There is some delicate harmonising as the song’s protagonist seeks respite from suffering. The line “Let your body go” is an urge to escape bodily restraints which calls to mind John Lennon’s “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream” in Tomorrow Never Knows. This song employs a brass section, which injects it with an element of playfulness.

Folk of the Wood embraces its insular rural setting of “around the corner from Julian’s farm.”  With lines like “a little bitty out of our minds”, the song twists the wholesome rhythms of nursery rhymes.

All Among the Waves opens with a harmonica and drifts into a violin which, though sorrowful, is also irresistible because of the tenderness with which it is played. There is a hint of scathing social commentary, with the singer protesting against the harsh economic landscape of the song being blamed on the poor. Here is a stagnating locality: an archetypal, stultifying one horse town, where the young have their ambitions beaten and strangled. This is a hopeless rural sprawl reminiscent of the novels of John Steinbeck, where despair is the default mood of the downtrodden. The soft ending belies the pessimism which has gone before it.

The mournful piano opening of Laughter in Sleep gives way to the repetition of “Kathleen”, and the chorus of violins is devastating. The singer’s voice drops almost to a whisper at the close with the words “the salt on our bodies is all that we ever can keep”, and it is similar to Damien Rice’s equally grief-stricken whisper of “’til I find somebody new” at the end of The Blower’s Daughter. 

Lonesome Road conjures the image of a beach in weakening sunlight. The singer clings to the tenuous hope that his unnamed paramour would “still be mine.” From a Rooftop, is laced with the biblical imagery of the “sweet doves of Damascus.” Unfortunately, the lyrics rapidly descend into heavy-handed metaphors such as “we spread our wings to freedom”, although things get better with the celestial dreaminess of “kissing the clouds above.” Although this track is ultimately a bit saccharine, it is a pleasant interlude between lengthier songs.

Nire Maxuxtra is sung in Spanish, and is not as memorable as preceding songs. Up Until Sunrise has more stabbing guitar, and a swifter pace than previous songs. The harmonica ebbs away to make room for more bird-related imagery. The most absurd song on the album is the penultimate one, Roll Out the Cannon. The jaunty piano opening is like the theme tune to a ‘50s sitcom – the kind peppered with innuendos. The backdrop of a band’s disintegration informs nostalgia for days when “we used to bring the house down.” Later on, there are vignettes of dysfunctional sideshow acts, with a “bearded lady having a shave ‘cos she can’t stand the slagging”, a delightful use of distinctly Irish slang. This song is heavily influenced by the surrealism of the circus, with the singer’s call to a poor, hapless fool to “roll out the cannon and get inside”, and it is an aural pleasure.

Closer, The Pigeon Lord, is a downer after the giddiness of the circus antics. An injured pigeon taps at a window because he is “pigeon lame.” A bicycle bell rings at intervals, and the song ends with the return of the creepy bicycle bell, and the faint sound of the bike crashing into something. And with that, Bricks and Feathers reaches its unsettling conclusion. The album is slated for a 1st May release date. Let that pigeon in.