Review: Neon Blue Bird

Ollabelle’s bread and butter is stealing old gospel, blues, and Americana songs and giving them a modern feel. As this five-piece, New York based band has developed over the years, they have added original compositions that mesh so well with traditional songs that it’s hard to differentiate between covers and originals.

In August, their third studio record, Neon Blue Bird, was released. While sadness permeates this album, it never descends to dreary. The message: The world is broken, and this—for better or for worse—is how we’re dealing with it.

At times, while recognizing the hardship in the world, the songs echo a biblical hope. Byron Isaacs’ “Brotherly Love” could be considered a contemporary protest song, but rather than referring to politics, Isaacs urges listeners to stop coasting, and to “aim higher” in their relationships. Fiona McBain’s “Wait for the Sun” is a smooth slow dance waiting to happen. She opens with the lines, “don’t fade away/ don’t turn out the light of the day/ when even the shadows are claimed by the dark.” It has a smoky, upscale, 1950s lounge scene feel—like the closing montage of a Mad Men episode.

While lyrically there are spots of weakness where words seem sentimental, cheap, or filler, the layers of instrumentation provide a sound that is clean but not over-produced.

Songs range from the gospel-feeling, upbeat “Be Your Woman” to the British folk ballad “The Butcher Boy”—a traditional track both haunting and beautiful. Ollabelle continues to excel in harmonies and the ambiance of pianos and organs laced with with background guitar effects and drums. The easy cohesion of all these elements brings the story to the forefront, immersing you in narrative.