wears the trousers magazine

wallis bird: new boots (2009)
September 24, 2009, 9:24 am
Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: , , ,


Wallis Bird
New Boots •••½

Wallis Bird knows the meaning of triumph. Born left-handed, she lost all the fingers on said hand in a lawnmower accident as a child (and had four sewn back on again), then simply adapted to playing a right-handed guitar, upside down, and carried on cultivating a militarily precise sense of rhythm and a distinctive messy-choppy style that’s enough to turn even Ani DiFranco a shade of envious green. This, her second full-length album, has triumph running through it like the wording in a stick of rock – from the rousing horn-and-distortion-drenched ‘Can Opener’ through to the palpably joyous ‘When We Kissed The World Fell In Love’, and even the (initially) quieter final track ‘Your Morning Dream’, which sounds like a song that quite simply can’t believe its own luck, like a kid in a sweet shop, or a vegetarian in Belgium.

One feels when reviewing Wallis Bird the weight of two expectations: the mention of The Accident and its (putative) influence on her playing style, and a roll-call of female singer-songwriters to whom she is in varying degrees indebted, specifically DiFranco, Fiona Apple, Janis Joplin and – get this, pop pickers – Bonnie Tyler. It would be remiss to indulge in the less relevant of these expectations without paying due attention to the other, since there’s a strand of each of these singers woven up tight into this glorious tapestry of an album. Which is to say that you can hear DiFranco’s musical phrasing and loftily abstract guitar lines; Apple’s jittery minor-key energy (which occasionally spills over into angst); Joplin’s soulful vocal inflection, summoned deep from the diaphragm; and the occasional whiff of Tyler’s hoarse crooning and mild taste for the melodramatic. To frame Bird generically, there are elements of funk, blues and jazz blended in modest measures into the cocktail of acoustic rock, and the whole thing is a concoction which she appears to swig back with the hearty gusto of a Bavarian at Oktoberfest.

Perhaps her most impressive instrumental ability is displayed in her voice, which stutters and yelps its way through the spikiest of grooves one minute, then rolls and purrs through the honey-smooth sections the next. There’s a real sense of words being played with for their own sake and feel as well as for their rhythmic cadence (“I’ve got punchlines and fisticuffs and tons and tons of love”), which adds a quirky poetry to her lyrics, though most of the content remains quotidian enough – either straightforward celebratory love paeans or throwaway two-line choruses. Bird’s music is very much a gestalt affair, so the attention isn’t focused too greatly on the lyrics as an individual unit; except in notable cases where they tear through the pleasing mass of activity with their conspicuously raw earnestness, as in the shouted chorus to ‘An Idea About Mary’ (“Give me back me!”), or the borderline saccharine, “Oh life, I love you to my bones” (‘To My Bones’). These mildly toe-curling instances aside, it’s difficult not to be swept along a little by the fundamentally likeable spirit of the songs, which seems equally strong in the rockier as in the jazzier tracks. If you like your rock light and amiable and shot through with joy, these New Boots could be entirely fitting attire.

Katy Knight
UK release date: 07/09/09; www.myspace.com/wallisbird

‘To My Bones’ [live]


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