Scott Barkan is among good company. Joining the ranks of folk troubadours who saddled a guitar and rode through towns with authentic certainty, he brings a modern flavor to an aged genre. Ironically, it might be his Flightless Bird that gets him off the ground.
From the first notes of the album, it’s obvious that Barkan isn’t making music for the sake of making music––it is an expression of his thoughts. The gritty-guitar fueled romp that drives the title track sounds like the best of the Dear Hunter. Bordering on the outskirts of country, the song’s half-time groove indeed gets down and dirty. Paired with personal, semi-pessimistic lyrics, it’s a great opening statement. From that point on, the album takes a turn but not a bad one. The rest of the songs are more stripped down and experiment with different genres. “Leaving Here” finds a Weather Report-esque bass line that swells into an all-out chorus. It’s big, bold, and honest––everything Barkan exemplifies. It sounds as if it was recorded to be played on vinyl, with its rounded tones and reedy output.
Though the songs are different, Barkan has an ear for thematic connections. Even during the mostly spoken-word “Crank Radio,” the band is subtle and the guitar is wonderfully reminiscent of Dallas Green. For decades, the acoustic guitar has been an accessible, emotional instrument, and this is something we are wonderfully reminded of when listening to Bird. Its simultaneously lucid and syrupy sound create a live sound, as if the guitar is in the same room with you. And “They’re Playing Our Song,” an ostensible love note with gravelly vocals, shows Barkan playing with the sung lyric, utilizing chord changes to surprise the listener. Combined with its chaotic interludes, it seems as if the song itself wants to be heard as a living mess.
It seems as if the next folk singer is always lurking around the corner of the pub, but Barkan kindly sticks his neck out from the Empire State with a reminder of feeling. This emotional focal point saturates the album and attaches a thoughtfulness (and, at times, melancholy) lacking in much music today. Flightless Bird is indeed a great album, worthy of a repeat listen. It is a balance between creator and creation, wherein the songsmith admits his flaws, but the audience has them too, and there is a connection.