Review by Kent Manthie
This is the new, eponymous EP by the amalgamated Americana band, Screambirds. By “amalgamated”, I mean the members come from different points between the South and the Midwest.
Johnny, guitarist and vocalist, hails from Huntsville, AL. To escape the stifling isolation and ennui, Johnny picked up the guitar and began writing and singing songs at the tender age of 10. Quoting here from their bio on their website: “Moved to L.A. at age 18 to become a struggling drunken homeless musician, until ’08 when started studying classical guitar, music theory, jazz violin & piano.” Now, I’m not quite sure how the latter changes the former in that L.A. story, but, I suppose just being around more musical people was a fruitful proposition which landed him in the right place at the right time.
River, who plays bass as well as a Fender/Rhodes electric keyboard, hails from Austin, TX. He too got the musical bug at a young age and “has been singing, writing songs & playing just about every instrument since a very early age.”
Mike, the mystery man, from “somewhere in the Midwest” is the “percussion master and manager, alongside Johnny”. That is a good thing – I know if I were in a band, I would NOT have a manager. I’ve seen plenty of documentaries and films about bands to know that managers are usually nothing but hangers-on who are really just extra baggage. Now, an “agent” is a different story. A good agent can get you and your band gigs and take care of your financial needs (just as long as the agent doesn’t steer you anywhere near anything corporate-owned), but a “manager” of a rock band is not a figure I admire. I mean, if you and your band can’t get yourselves to your own gigs on time and count your own money, arrange for lodging, etc., then you must be a bunch of dummies. Other than that, though, a manager is a waste of money and a lot of them are just crooks, looking to cash in on you and your band’s success, riding the wave of the financial success while not contributing anything that creates the success – they’re blood-sucking vampires who bleed you dry, rip you off and then abandon you when you start to falter, fame-wise. Who needs that kind of headache? Anyone can be a “manager”. And if your band can get along without one, then do it!
Anyway, getting back to Screambirds. This four-cut EP has a kind of edgy blues quality to it. It’s not slow or dark or dull, but filled with jangling guitars, sincere vocals, singing a brand of rock that would not be out of place at a local tavern, a place full of drinking folks, providing a just-right soundtrack. The first song, “Trouble”, is a mellow, but passionately sung ballad-esque tune about hard times. “Fallen Down” is a catchy number, one you can imagine dancing to on the dance floor at the aforementioned pub.
Screambirds have a distinctive sound – especially Johnny’s vocal stylings. He’s got one of those memorable voices that have a certain ineffable quality – there’s a plaintive, sometimes pining quality to his singing. It’s almost as if he’s serenading someone; he’s got an earthy, aching voice that is easily recognizable.
“Searching” is a subdued, sad song which shows off his plaintive voice well, with a sweet sounding backup. Then, the final tune, “Stabbing Hearts” picks things up, it’s an upbeat, indie love song, of sorts. The only band I can think of that reminds me of these guys is a band that was active in Minneapolis in the early-mid 1990s called Run Westy Run. I believe they had one hit that went national, had a video on MTV and all, but the singer was kind of doped up and they didn’t really make it far, but there was a period when they would, on a somewhat regular basis, play gigs around the hip parts of Minneapolis – the West Bank (of the Mississippi River), near the University of MN – Minneapolis. They played a lot at this little place called The 400 Bar. I remember going there a lot of times to see a number of bands. One show I didn’t make was Weezer, not too long after their debut album came out and they were already a big hit with songs like “Undone (the Sweater Song)” and “Buddy Holly” and my favorite Weezer tune, “Say it Ain’t So”. But, for some reason, they decided to play, what was, I heard, a jam-packed crowd at this small bar with a relatively tiny stage up front. I’m not a huge Weezer fan, but, it might’ve been kind of nice to see that show.
Anyway, so if you’re tantalized, then check Screambirds out. They have a website you can visit for more information and whatnot – www.screambirds.com. Enjoy! -KM.