Songs from Willipa Bay

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Hailing from Portland, OR, Birddog is a project masterminded by Bill Santen and recorded with a shifting cast of friends who offer their talents as they drift in and out of the studio. Past efforts have boasted appearances from the likes of Elliott Smith and Edith Frost; this time around Sebadoh mainstay Jason Loewenstein pops up for Songs from Willipa Bay. Birddog specializes in the sort of rainy-day acoustic pop songs that artists like Tobin Sprout (ex-Guided by Voices) and Bill Fox (the Mice) do so well. This is shown especially well on album-openers "$100" and "The Play." The melancholy is always present, but not overpowering or flashy. Shades of Neil Young, Brian Wilson, and the Palace Brothers work their way into the mix occasionally. Thankfully, "Red Red Wine" isn't the UB40 nightmare its title conjures. Instead, it's an almost nautical journey of acoustic guitars and Orchestraville/Built to Spill-esque winding guitar lines leading up to the Modest Mouse musical and vocal undertones of "The Cities." An album highlight, on "The Cities" Santen's voice adopts some of the flattering aspects of Isaac Brock's squeaky, faux high lonesome drawl. Though it never erupts into the manic explosions Brock is prone to, the song boasts a pensive melody and stark lyrics ("Where has the time gone?/Never seen the ocean/Winter's getting warmer/Goodbye's getting shorter"). At seven songs, Songs From Willipa Bay's biggest shortcoming is its brevity. Then again, there is something to be said for not wearing out your welcome, and leaving the audience wanting more. A beautiful record, Birddog's latest deserves to get press that reaches beyond merely acknowledging the Loewenstein connection and praises Birddog for its talent.