This Sunday evening, Bowerbirds, a band from Raleigh, North Carolina, will be performing in Herrick with bands Prypyat and Victorian Gaslight. Despite Bowerbirds’ exotic origins, however, lead vocalist and guitarist Phil Moore’s roots lie much closer to home for Grinnellians. In fact, Moore was originally from Grinnell, Iowa.
Bowerbirds sounds something like a jam session between Devendra Banhart and Fleet Foxes. Following the tradition of folk music, nature is heavily referenced and influences the band both musically and personally. Along with Beth Tacular, accordion and vocals, Phil Moore lives in a log cabin he constructed himself among the woods of North Carolina.
“People think we’re hippies and reviews try to box us in. But we’re just trying to play our music,” Moore said.
Bowerbirds’ music, which varies between praise songs and deep introspection, invokes their lifestyle—one of immersion in nature and a separation from the hustle and bustle of civilization.
In the song “Overcome With Light,” Moore’s vocals waver like the wings of a bird. The song’s guitar provides an easy melody that quickens suddenly like a frightened deer, but just as soon simmers down. The gospel-like chorus lulls the listener into its peaceful melodies.
“Now I’m overcome with light, overcome with light. Overcome with light, overcome with light. Yes we had some hard work but now it’s right. Overcome with light, overcome with light,” Moore sings.
The understated nature of the song relies not on complicated arrangements but on a delicate rapport between Moore’s vocals and the guitar. Though understated, the song is far from simple; Bowerbirds orchestrates subtle touches in their work, such as the violin crescendo echoing alongside Moore as his vocals rise to its cadence.
Though the song begins, “I know I’m happy now,” the song does not exactly have a happy tone. It embodies a sublime feeling, the kind one gets from looking across a mountain peak, or standing alone in the middle of the woods, that seems to encompass everything all at once.
“Quiet, peaceful moments are when I write really strong songs,” Moore said.
The understated construction combined with the song’s recurrent rise and fall invokes the timeless traditions of nature, which have and always will awe and inspire.
This nature motif holds strong in a song like “In Our Talons,” which begins with a booming drum and the creaking of an accordion. The giant booming of the drums carries the song forward with a ceaseless momentum, pushed ahead by the group’s harmonious vocals.
Halfway between a minstrel jaunt through the woods and a gypsy folk song, the song addresses the relationship between earth, its creatures, and humanity. Between each verse, there are softer arrangements where Tacular’s accordion could just almost lull you to a dream-state—the kind of quietly captivating sound the band excels at—only to drop back into the booming beat like a ceremonial ritual.
The vocals pantomime the sounds of beetles, trees, and the sea through a humble deet deet deet deet deet, while humanity is voiced through an eerie call and response, and portrayed as an animal with talons that’s grabbed ahold of the earth and isn’t letting go.
“And no, you’re not alone. No, my cousins, you’re not alone. You’re in our talons now, and we’re never letting go,” Bowerbirds sings.
These kinds of lyrics give insight into the personal influences of Bowerbirds’ songwriting.
“Humans, broadly speaking, don’t respect the earth as much as they should,” Moore said. “But we’re a species just like birds or fish, and we can’t treat the Earth any way we want it to.”
With a deliberately pensive songwriting process, harmonious and subtle arrangements, and their humble reverence to nature, Bowerbirds is a treat for the ears of Grinnellians. Come and be captivated November 11th at 9 p.m. in Herrick Chapel.