Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Few debut albums are more hotly anticipated than this self-titled effort from Jade Bird. Even before its release, three songs have made inroads as singles with “Lottery” hitting the top spot on the Triple A radio chart. Bird has also flown into some high-profile “Artists to Watch in 2019” articles, opened for acts such as Brandi Carlile, Colter Wall and others, and hit the festival circuit playing Bonnaroo, Stagecoach and Mountain Jam. She also has a handful of professionally shot and edited, well-received videos already available. An upcoming tour opening for Father John Misty and Jason Isbell will introduce her to thousands of more eyes. And a frequently viewed YouTube performance has her rocking out on Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere,” a song whose lyrics name check multiple cities, and which seems close to her own experience. It’s almost promotional overkill but she has the goods to back it up.
Considering her young age (mid-twenties), Bird seems to have had enough relationships, some apparently rocky, to detail her feelings about them in these dozen songs. Thankfully she wraps the somewhat dark, often introspective lyrics around memorable, generally peppy melodies. Some are sweet like the predominantly acoustic, upbeat “Ruins” and the reggae-ish “Love Has All Been Done Before”; others are more driving indie pop/rock as in “Side Effects” and the anthemic “My Motto.” All stick with you. She gets to the point quickly too with more than half the tracks clocking in at under three minutes and the whole album wrapping in just over a half-hour.
Bird’s voice shifts from innocent and reticent (in “Does Anyone Know” she asks softly, “Shall I leave you alone, is that what you want?”) to angry (the vitriolic “She’s got you on your knees like a little boy” in “Uh-Huh”) but remains emotional and distinctive throughout. The irritated songs are the catchiest with early sing-along single “Going Going Gone,” about a soon to be ex-boyfriend, already a concert staple. The closing, sparse solo piano “If I Die” shows Bird at her most reflective and meditative. It’s contrasted with the pounding drums of the near indie rock of “Get No Joy,” where she’s frustrated at herself for looking too closely at life and not enjoying it for what it is with “you live, you love, you learn, you’re dead.”
The UK-bred Bird is attracted to stateside music; her 2017 five song EP was named Something American, after the title track and featured a rousing version of the gospel standard “Grinnin’ in Your Face.” Without knowing her background, it’s almost impossible to peg her as British, at least until she speaks.
Regardless, this is an impressive first effort. Bird, with help from co-producer Simone Felice, arrives fully formed as a rootsy, taut songwriter and especially vivacious singer. Her authority, poise and sense of self resonates as a new yet seasoned artist, just getting started and with a promising career ahead.