The Ragbirds

Yes Nearby

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Yes Nearby is the debut album by Ann Arbor Michigan's Ragbirds. Led by multi-instrumentalist songwriter and vocalist Erin Zindle, the Ragbirds have literally nothing in common with their city's long-standing garage rock or experimental traditions. Zindle is a boundless songwriter: she simply writes what she hears regardless of genre classification or what's happening on the "current" music scene. What is immediately striking about these proceedings is their consistency and wide-ranging creativity. Over 12 songs, Zindle and her Ragbirds -- as well as a host of other friends and collaborators -- search for the heart of the song and use everything at their disposal to give it a voice. Her violin caresses and careens; drums, hand percussion, and handclaps weave through the bottom ends of her songs to give them weight, depth, dimension, and heat. These tomes are created from trace elements of poetry, American and British Isles folk traditions, country, reggae, blues, jazz, pop and rock, without any conscious fusing of disparate elements. Fans of Bruce Cockburn's world music-oriented work from the late 1970s on; Over the Rhine at their most adventurous; Márta Sebestyén and Muzsikas, and the more melodic music of Lisa Germano will be drawn in, indeed mesmerized by this debut. The set opens with "Low Flying," where a darbukka, hand percussion, and Zindle's droning violin usher in a taut melody that is almost chant-like in its circularity, providing a solid frame for her poignant lyrics, sung in a clear relaxed contralto. The deep yet folksy reggae groove of "Narcissick," is fueled by Todd Perkins' insistent yet bare-bones bassline that undergirds the guitars and percussion. Zindle offers a moral compass by using the first person to communicate soul sickness in full weedy flower. A slippery gypsy violin winds itself sensually and mournfully around hand drums and a ringing mandolin in "Picture," and offers a portrait of attachment and lovesickness that is deeply moving -- and instructive. The Eastern modal groove in "Totem Pole" touches Turkish, Armenian, and Bulgarian folk musics in its melancholy articulation that opens itself up to hope as mandolin, guitars, and violin are kissed by dumbek and shekere. The droning Yemenite modality of "Adoration" would not have been out of place on Peter Gabriel's Passion album had it contained vocals. It's haunting and full of a nearly erotic longing for union with the Divine. In sharp contrast, the countrified, near-whimsical joy in "Believe It," is open, full of sky and sun with its slippery accordion and meld of strummed acoustic and distorted, roaring electric guitars underlining a personal manifesto. "Holy Kiss," carried by a lilting piano, is a sacred love song. In its body, desire, brokenness, and searing honesty are carried in the grain of Zindle's voice to an Other (stood proxy for by the listener) who is both blessed and humbled by this naked offering of truth, spirit, and vulnerability. Yes Nearby is a rare first step, for the poetic intensity of its focus, the high quality of its musicianship, and the quiet, yet near-astonishing precision of its songwriting. It marks a musical terrain where spirit and flesh, the sacred and profane, the moral and the ambiguous come together in an intoxicating, instructive dance of truth and beauty in everyday life. This is evidence of the very best of what contemporary, independent pop music has to offer.

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