What's initially striking about Birdie Busch's endearing follow-up to The Ways We Try isn't her innocent voice, intimate songwriting, or lyrics that evoke a simple, more rustic way of life. It's her album art. Like the work of obscure folk artist James Hampton (who used scavenged materials to assemble a religious monument in his garage), Penny Arcade's cover features a wooden shadow box decorated with symmetrical stacks of pennies, plucked dandelions, gold foil wrappers, and cardboard religious paraphernalia. Take the shadow box apart, and you're left with nothing but pocket change, firewood, and trash. Piece it together, however, and the everyday objects fuse into something that's whimsical and unassuming, yet nonetheless engaging. Birdie Busch's sophomore offering of pop-laced Americana follows suit; while her voice doesn't resonate with the haunting beauty of Neko Case or strike the same nostalgic chord as Gillian Welch, its earnest delivery makes it one of the most affecting altos around. The Philly resident culls her songs from a place far less populated, where the highways and cheesesteaks of her native town are replaced by rivers, ridges, and tree-borne fruit. It's an interesting approach -- embracing the countryside from a metropolitan stance -- and Busch blocks out her urban surroundings with simple folk melodies, a minimalist country-leaning band, and her slight farmland drawl. The songs aren't necessarily lush, but there's still a lot to mine here, whether the listener is sifting though the pastoral psychedelic strains of "Wild Mountain Honey" (a swampy, banjo-led cover of the Steve Miller original) or nodding to the quirky lullabying lilt of "Clemency." "My heart, well, it's worn on the outside," Busch sings during the upbeat "Hold Ya." "And if I see something good, I'm gonna show ya; and if I hear something sweet, I'm gonna tell ya." That's a raison d'être shared by the world's best singer/songwriters, and Penny Arcade sets Busch down the right path to join their ranks.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey