Birds of Chicago – Love in Wartime

Album Review | Signature Sounds Recordings | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 5/5

Back in February 2011, the Wheelhouse in Wombwell, a house concert venue located just a stone’s throw away from Barnsley town centre, was enjoying its usual cheerful gathering of regulars, guests and curious travellers from far and wide when JT and the Clouds arrived in town, their UK tour manager also being the owner of the venue. It was indeed a night to remember, a night of discovery and a night that I unexpectedly gained a pal from Chicago. Up until that point, I don’t think I had any of those. On that occasion JT was joined by his Chicago-based band The Clouds, made up of Dan Abu-Absi, Chris Neal and Mike Bruno, who between them performed a totally acoustic set of songs from their current Caledonia album, together with one or two from JT’s new rootsy side project Mountains/Forests under the guise of JT Nero, the Chicago-born singer-songwriter’s solo alter-ego. Little did we know back then that JT would soon join forces both musically and romantically with another huge talent on the American/Canadian roots scene, one Allison Russell, the leading voice behind the hugely popular Po’Girl, one of the brightest stars in a star-filled Galaxy. Once JT and Allison joined forces, sparks flew all over the shop and Birds of Chicago was born; born to spread their love, their infectious personalities and their utterly gorgeous songs to the world. Love in Wartime is the duo’s third studio album, following on from their self-titled debut, their last album Real Midnight as well as a live album Live from Space. Those who were knocked out by Po’Girl’s “Kathy”, JT and the Clouds’ “Fever Dream” or indeed Birds of Chicago’s sublime “Sparrow”, will no doubt immediately fall in love with these eleven songs. Through songs like these, certainly the title song “Love in Wartime”, the funky “Never Go Back”, the astonishingly exquisite “Superlover” and the soul-filled Baton Rouge, Birds of Chicago manage lift your spirits to places your spirits need to be lifted in these sour times. Utterly soulful, rich in texture, beautifully arranged and highly melodic throughout, Love in Wartime is an essential addition to any record collection, whether you’re into this sort of stuff or not. For this album, which was produced by JT and Luther Dickinson, JT and Allison are joined by Chris Merrill on bass, Nick Chambers on drums, Joel Schwartz on lead guitar, brother Drew Lindsay on piano and keys, Dan Abu Absi on guitars, Javier Saume-Mazzei on percussion and Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor providing harmony vocals. This year, the organisers of the Cambridge Folk Festival have had the good sense to ask Rhiannon Giddens, a friend of JT and Allison, to accept an offer to act as guest curator at the festival, essentially to invite a bunch of first rate performers to the celebrated annual event and amongst those invited are Birds of Chicago; a huge opportunity to open doors to new audiences. I sense that a great number of music lovers still unaware of Birds of Chicago will be suitably impressed and will no doubt add this couple from Chicago and Montreal respectively to their Christmas card lists. I see absolutely no reason why not.