‘The type of pop band that the great John Peel would have championed’ says label American Dust of the Bye Bye Blackbirds. Possibly not, for on occasion John’s ears were resolutely cloth; he failed to pick up on any number of great groups who chose to major on the song rather than on sound and/or attitude; take Flying Nun – although he favoured the Chills with sessions, I don’t recall him ever playing the Verlaines or Sneaky Feelings. The Bye Bye Blackbirds acknowledge their affection for the out-of-time, out-of-place songcraft of the Sneakys, and for the kind of harmonic soaking that you get when listening to the Everly Brothers (it’s well worth reading what Bradley from the BBBs has to say about Don and Phil). And if you hear the Byrds, well then, that’s because the Blackbirds are the genuine West Coast article, and their harmonies and that Rickenbacker psychedelia are in the blood, just as the Scouse veins of the Coral and Shack are shot through with the melodic surprise and transcendent guitar of the Beatles (if you’ll forgive me for using that particular metaphor about Michael Head).
Their 2006 debut Honeymoon has these ingredients, plus the interplay of two tones of guitar, a deeper growl and a lighter jangle. There are sixties sunshine melodies straight out of the Brill Building, or perhaps an office close by, and in ‘How I knew it wasn’t love’ and ‘Quiet confusion’ perfectly pitched songs whose blue shades beg for and get the pedal steel guitar they crave. The Blackbirds are also expert in varying the mood of a song, giving the saccharine sweet and prairie bright ‘Needle-in-a-haystack girls’ a darkly brooding Byrdsian coda, while ‘After work’ is perhaps their take on the Sneaky Feelings’ ‘Better than before’, with vocal lines exchanged much as the Jasmine Minks did on their Creation garage classic ‘What’s gone wrong’.
Freely available for download is the Apology accepted EP, featuring an impressively robust reading of the Go-Betweens song that I much prefer over the one by Kelman which appears on Love goes on: a tribute to Grant McLennan, and on ‘Monster eyes’, a melodically excellent setting of lyrics by Jonathan Lethem (from his novel You don’t love me yet, as yet unread by this admirer of The fortress of solitude) together with acoustic versions of songs which appear on Honeymoon and Houses and homes, their recently released album, which is winging its way to me from the States as I post.