Big Birds

Embracing the earth without being a jerk about it

The male bowerbird, a primarily Australian species, spends his time building up an elaborately decorated nest full of trinkets and brightly colored doodads, all in an attempt to attract a mate.

The Bowerbirds, the band, aren’t much different. The Raleigh, N.C., band, spend its time building up elaborately crafted folk songs full of gently humming accordion and tender, literate lyrics, all in an attempt to attract an audience.

The bird-band similarities don’t end there. A pair of bowerbirds will meet up again year after year in the same nest — an established lifelong relationship. The Bowerbirds are a romantic pair as well, a guitar-strumming boy and an accordion-playing girl (Phil Moore and Beth Tacular, respectively, though recent efforts have added drummer/ multi-instrumentalist Mark Paulson). While holed up in a cabin tracking birds for the North Carolina Museum of Natural History, 1.7 Moore put together the rudimentary beginnings of Bowerbirds songs, while Tacular worked on her paintings alongside. And so, with a cute and surprisingly relevant moniker, the Bowerbirds were officially born.

There’s an immediate danger here, though: two fervent environmentalists, strumming guitars, playing accordion, dressed in long white linens, singing earnest songs about saving the earth.

The Bowerbirds steer clear of the grand excesses of the new folk movement, neither affecting Devendra Banhart’s overblown tremolo nor indulging in Joanna Newsom’s 17-minute operatic overload. Nor do they seem to have embarked on a grand and endless acid trip. There’s nothing to make light of, no stereotypes to mock. No, the Bowerbirds seem completely (even frighteningly) earnest, even while writing songs like “In Our Talons,” where Moore admonishes the human species’ own excess, saying, “It takes a lot of nerve to destroy this wondrous Earth.”

With a voice that seems fragile, even imminently breakable, Moore brings a quiet beauty to his natural imagery; Tacular’s accordion is emphatic without ever being overbearing, and her backing vocals are a perfect counterpoint to Moore’s gently quivering tenor. John Darnielle (of the Mountain Goats), a man whose seal of approval is practically the Pulitzer amongst the literary folkie set, called the Bowerbirds “[his] new favorite band in forever.” Hyperbolic words, yes, but not wrong — the Bowerbirds deserve every kind word, every glittering accolade wrapped up in their rapidly expanding nest.

The Bowerbirds play with Julie Doiron at the Empyrean on Friday, Jan. 22, at 8 pm. All-ages. Tickets: $5. Call 747-8036.

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