Friday Five: The Year’s Best Bird Songs

Juli Thanki | September 18th, 2009

Birds are creepy, as anyone who’s seen a certain Hitchcock film knows. But from the great speckled bird to Dolly Parton’s little sparrow, these hollow-boned, beady-eyed creatures are something of a country music fixture. Let’s give a listen to some of 2009’s bird songs.

  • birds-015. “Basket of Singing Birds” – Missy Raines & The New Hip
    Jazzy bluegrass bassist Raines and her immensely talented three piece band The New Hip deliver this little tune penned by Ed Snodderly. I guess when “this love has gone crazy/and [you’ve] gone crazy too,” gathering a basket of singing birds seems like an acceptable pastime.
  • lynch-birds4. “The Mockingbird’s Voice” – Claire Lynch
    Lynch’s wonderful new album, Whatcha Gonna Do features two songs with bird metaphors: “A Canary’s Song,” which is about coalmining, and this one, which draws connections between the mimicking bird and a false hearted man full of empty promises: “A mockingbird’s voice sounds so sweet, but he’ll say anything/He’ll sit outside your window and sing to you all day…Try to hold him, he flies away.”
  • holly-williams-birds3. “Birds” – Holly Williams
    Like Neil Young on his version on After the Gold Rush, Williams relies solely on voice, piano, and the sheer lyrical beauty of this breakup song. It just might be enough to give a listener hope that “there will be another one.”
  • golden-bird2. “Golden Bird” – Levon Helm
    Folkie Happy Traum wrote this one and recorded it with brother Artie before Helm tackled it on Electric Dirt. The song—about a man who pelts a bird out of the sky with a rock—is straight up eerie, especially when the bird returns to him in the form of a woman.
  • 1. “The Parakeet” – James Hand
    In this case, both pet and owner seem to be a little nutty…and perfectly suited for one another.

  1. Jon
    September 18, 2009 at 7:46 am

    Missy Raines & The New Hip are a 5 piece band, meaning that she has 4 colleagues, not 3. Which one of the guys are you leaving out, Juli?!

  2. Juli
    September 18, 2009 at 7:55 am

    The album’s liner notes only list Michael Witcher, Dillon Hodges, and Ethan Ballinger, who are also the only bandmates Raines cites in her acknowledgments–the accompanying photo features Raines with three dudes.

    Her website shows some personnel changes (looks like Hodges is no longer part of TNH?), but I’m gonna stick with the album credits for this song.

  3. Jim Malec
    September 18, 2009 at 7:57 am

    I was gonna say Rob, because who likes a drummer?

  4. PaulaW
    September 18, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Jerry Reed – “The Bird”

  5. Jon
    September 18, 2009 at 8:28 am

    You can’t believe everything you read in liner notes, Juli (and I ought to know). This band has always been a quintet; Inside Out was put together when they were between members. “Basket” was recorded when Megan McCormick and Lee Holland were in the band and Dillon wasn’t; it first appeared on a self-titled EP – it, along with “Magnolia” and “Stop, Drop & Wiggle” were kept for inclusion in the full-length, while two other songs (good ones, I might add) weren’t.

  6. Jon
    September 18, 2009 at 8:39 am

    And by the way, Inside Out is a really good album – one of my favorites for the year.

  7. PaulaW
    September 18, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Oops, sorry. Just realized it said “the year’s” best bird songs. (but in my own self-defense, it didnt say which year).

    that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!


  8. Juli
    September 18, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Paula, if Jerry Reed managed to record a bird song this year, it’d automatically top this list ;-)

  9. Jon
    September 18, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Video of a recent performance of “Basket Of Singing Birds” (with Missy’s former Claire Lynch Band and duo colleague Jim Hurst substituting on guitar) here:

  10. Stewman
    September 18, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Jon, “You can’t believe everything you read in liner notes?” You took me task on artist bio’s, so i’d be interested in your explanation on this.

  11. Chris N.
    September 18, 2009 at 11:03 am

    What he means is, You can’t believe anything until Jon confirms it.

  12. Jon
    September 18, 2009 at 11:11 am

    “Jon, “You can’t believe everything you read in liner notes?” You took me task on artist bio’s, so i’d be interested in your explanation on this.”

    I explained it in the post with which that sentence began.

    (And BTW, I see that Juli did not, in fact, “stick with the album credits for this song,” since the album credits (correctly) list Megan and Lee as performing on it – making, together with Mike and Ethan and Missy, 5 pieces in all (Dillon hadn’t yet replaced Megan when it was recorded).)

  13. Jim Malec
    September 18, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Credits as followers, per Juli’s notes:

    Missy Raines, MIke Witcher, Dillon Hodges, Ethan Ballinger
    Megan McCormick, etc…
    [emphasis added]

    Megan et al were not considered part of the band for the recording of the album, so even though those individuals may have played on the track, I do not think Juli needed to credit them in the context of her reference.

  14. Juli
    September 18, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Not to beat a dead horse, but here’s a blurb from Raines’ own website (better add that to the list of sources I can’t believe):

    From the Nashville Scene’s Critics’ Picks:

    “The title [Inside Out] fits, since Raines, Michael Witcher, Dillon Hodges and Ethan Ballinger—plus Megan McCormick and other guests—take their bluegrass sensibilities and venture deep into playful jazz territory. As a general rule, it’s their vocal numbers that brood and their instrumentals—like the jaunty jazz boogie “Stop, Drop & Wiggle”—that percolate with energy.”

    Back to the Friday Five: “The Parakeet” is one cool song.

  15. Kelly
    September 18, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Jon – your sponsor from Nit-Pickers Anonymous called looking for you. He really wants you to call him since he hasnt seen you at a meeting recently…from the looks of this comment thread, it’s been a while since your last meeting.

  16. Stewman
    September 18, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Jon, you explain the example posted by Juli. You infer that it happens quite often, when you say “in liner notes”.

  17. Jon
    September 18, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Sheesh. Like I said, this has always been a 5 piece band, so when I saw Juli’s comment about Missy’s 3 colleagues, I reacted – and the “?!” should have been a clue that it wasn’t a particularly serious reaction. It’s true that only 3 other guys were listed at the head of the album credits, but that’s merely because at the time they had to get artwork in to meet their desired release date, they hadn’t settled on a new drummer. But if you’re going to focus in that narrowly, why not go all the way and refer to the other musicians on the track – of which there were 5, including Missy. And as I explained, those 5 were Missy Raines & The New Hip at the time the track was recorded, and I believe at the time the EP on which it first appeared was released. So when the track was included on Inside Out, the two no-longer-members were listed as (IIRC) additional musicians. But they weren’t guests when it was recorded. And – again – the band’s always been a 5 piece band, and a mighty fine one, too.

    Stewman, I think you mean “imply,” not “infer.” And reading “not always” as “quite often” doesn’t make sense. The fact is, you can’t always trust album credits, because they don’t always – nor do they need to – tell the full story.

  18. Jon
    September 18, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    And back to the Friday Five: do check out Missy Raines & The New Hip, .

  19. Chris N.
    September 18, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Just let him be right and forget about it.

  20. Mayor Jobob
    September 18, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    “New Way to Fly” – Garth Brooks. Not literally about birds but it’s a good cliche.

  21. TexasVet
    September 18, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Don’t know about this year’s best bird songs but this has to be the WORST bird song ever recorded:

  22. Rick
    September 18, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Hey, where’s TenPoundHammer touting “The Tennessee Bird Walk”?

    Like Paula W. I’m going to hijack this and mention one of my favorite bird theme songs! No, its not Little Jimmie Dickens’ “May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose”. Rather is the beautiful duet of Jann Browne with Iris Dement singing “Lovebird” on Jann’s “Tell Me Why” Album. Mountain music at its best with a nice acoustic instrumental jam attached to the end. This song is unusual as the bridge doesn’t occur until well after the 2 minute mark during the song. Great stuff….

  23. Ben Milam
    September 18, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Steven Fromholz – I gave her a ring

  24. missy raines
    September 18, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Hey folks, first of all, thank you for listing our tune, Basket of Singing Birds, in such heavy company…seriously, I’m more than honored. Ed Snodderly is a brilliant writer to my mind.
    And secondly, I have to completely admit that between the liners, the various photos around, and reviews written, it would be hard to know exactly how many are in the band and who was where when! I apologize for that.
    Jon is totally correct in stating that my band has always been, and continues to be a 5 piece band. At the time of the recording, we had not settled on a full time drummer and Megan was with us during the very first recordings, then Dillon stepped in. These days I’m happy to report, we’ve landed on a sweet spot of synergy with Michael on resonator, Ethan Ballinger (who was playing mandolin) now switched to guitar, Dominick Leslie is now on mandolin and our very full time drummer is Rob Crawford. This configuration is the truly magical. Every person who has been in this band in the past has played an important role, and we, just like life, keep evolving. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks to all of you for listening and your support!!
    best, Missy

  25. stewman
    September 19, 2009 at 8:12 am

    Jon, I’ll be sure to use your criteria with all artist bio’s moving forward. Hey you can’t always trust them

  26. Jon
    September 19, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    “Jon, I’ll be sure to use your criteria with all artist bio’s moving forward. Hey you can’t always trust them”

    Dude. In the first place, I don’t have any problem with that as a general principle. In the second place, what I wrote in this thread was with respect to album credits and I explained in detail exactly what I meant, which was based on direct knowledge of where and how the credits led to a minor error on Juli’s part; to equate that with an allegation, admittedly based on no direct knowledge whatsoever, that a bio contained a deliberately false statement made in pursuit of a misleading PR end would require an especially addlepated way of thinking. And lastly, it’s clear from your posts in that thread, as well as many others, that you hardly need to create a distorted representation of my outlook in order to persist (not “move forward”) in your biases. Knock yourself out with them, but leave me out of it, please.

  27. Leeann Ward
    September 19, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Jim Hurst played guitar in Claire Lynch’s band when we saw her at the beginning of the month. He got to play a couple songs of his own at the two shows. He was awesome.

  28. Jon
    September 19, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Yeah, Jim’s a dandy. Just to be clear, when I call him Missy’s former bandmate in the CLB, it’s because Missy, not Jim, left the band; Mark Schatz is presently the CLB’s bass player.

  29. badrockandroll
    September 21, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    It may not count as a 2009 song since it isn’t released, but Marty Stuart does a song in concert about a solitary black bird, as a metaphor for the Man in Black. It’s not bad, especially amidst all the not so good songs that have appeared since Johnny Cash’s passing, that have immortalized only one part (the outlaw part) of a very complex man.

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