Five years elapsed between Ollabelle’s last studio album, Riverside Battle Songs, and this follow-up release. Amy Helm, Fiona McBain, and Tony Leone all became parents in the interim, prompting the band to take several breaks while the women went on maternity leave. Meanwhile, Universal Music Group overhauled the band’s label and dropped several artists, including Ollabelle. The group wound up taking out a loan to finance the Neon Blue Bird sessions, which were spread out over the course of several years. What could’ve easily turned into a sprawling, loosely connected album is actually a cohesive song cycle, though, steeped in Southern tradition and performed with the sort of breezy, homespun air that belies the difficult recording circumstances. Like Alison Krauss & Union Station, Ollabelle root their sound in classic Americana, with folk instrumentation and gospel harmonies providing the foundation for songs like “Dirt Floor” (a cover of Chris Whitley’s 1998 original), “One More Time,” and a swampy, slinky version of Paul Kelly’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” But the band also reaches beyond the South, roping in some atmospheric elements for a lush take on “Swanee River” and evoking the glory days of Chicago blues with “Brotherly Love.” Not every song delivers the same punch -- “Lovin’ in My Baby’s Eyes” drains every ounce of soul from Taj Mahal’s version -- but Neon Blue Bird marks a surefooted return for a band whose absence was sorely missed.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey