Biirdie | Catherine Avenue (Love Minus Zero)

cd_biirdie.jpgThe plaintive vocals and stately Americana trappings of "Life in a Box" reveal the band as more than competent craftsmen, while the alt-country "Estelle" is pure, uninhibited fun.







It’s always good to have definitive songs for every occasion, and if the occasion is a suspicion that your little love muffin was thinking of someone else during your bout of commingling last night, there’s no better tune than "Who Were You Thinkin’ Of," an ultra-catchy update of a Texas Tornados song that graces Catherine Avenue, the second album by California’s Biirdie. Featuring classic tight harmonies and irresistible farfisa organ, it’s one of those utterly singular songs whose simplicity and directness of intent make it timeless.

Biirdie’s Jared Flamm (who sings most of the lead male vocals), Kala Savage (sister of actor Fred Savage) and Richard Gowen stick to original compositions on the rest of this platter, but the unfettered listenability of this sterling cover is what will reel in the more casual listener. There’s a bit of a Wilco vibe here at times, and there are also some rather folksy CSNY-type moments. The plaintive vocals and stately Americana trappings of "Life in a Box" reveal the band as more than competent craftsmen, while the alt-country "Estelle" is pure, uninhibited fun. This song features one stellar arrangement, and by halfway through it, the infectious beat and sing-along verses should definitely have you smiling and tapping your feet—maybe even singing along.

More ambitious tracks include "I’m Gonna Tell You Something," which opens with a swirling blast of Pink Floydian instrumental weirdness before evolving into something more akin to ’70s-era Neil Young, with Flamm and Savage providing peerless male-female vocal harmonies. The amazing control the band shows on this diverse song is quite impressive, as it could’ve gotten truly self-indulgent in the hands of lesser talents.

Then there’s the seven-minute "Careless and Unconcerned," a track that keeps surprising you from moment to moment. There’s the beauty and clarity of the harmonies, the cool moment when the drums first kick in, and the rather fiery electric guitar work that brings the song to an instrumental crescendo in its final minute or two. Not to mention unpretentious lyrics that suit the music well: "Be careless and unconcerned/ Enjoy it while you can/ Be careful what you learn/ And always understand/ You only get one turn." It sounds like casual philosophizing, but Biirdie always seem to have several things going on at once — there’s a love song tucked into this interesting grabber of a track somewhere.

Also worth mentioning is Savage’s luminous lead vocal on the initially sparse piano ballad "Petals," which again, starts you off with one mood and turns a corner when the rhythm kicks in. Knowing how to "build up" a song for maximum impact is one of Biirdie’s greatest strengths, clearly. There’s not that much genuine originality here, and the album could have used at least one more solid upbeat number. But Catherine Avenue is a grower, for sure, one that keeps rewarding you if you pay attention.

Biirdie is likely to be the sort of band that "flies" under the radar, but if the word gets around, these talented West Coast youngsters could soar to even greater heights on future releases. B | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Rilo Kiley, Wilco, ’70s-era Grateful Dead

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