North Carolina’s Bowerbirds returns with its third gracing of folk-rock and emotional realization on The Clearing. Breaking up, broken ribs, dogs hit by cars, illness and reassurance of love, partnership and believing again all turn up on the LP, led by Phil Moore (vocals and guitar), Beth Tacular (accordion and vocals) and Mark Paulson (violin and vocals).
The three have crafted a cheery but dark melodic diary. Heavy-hearted opener “Tuck The Darkness In” chugs in with guitar twangs and cascades out with violin and clashing drums. Evidence of Moore and Tacular’s breakup and makeup, which immediately preceded this album, is drafted into their sentimental vocals and lyrics: “Down the red dirt path, me and my true love/We thought we’d have forever, and now we hurry on,” sings Moore on “Now We Hurry On.” Although somewhat too sleepy at times, the album’s journey of personal admittance uses the instruments strategically to ignite little bursts of hope and newness. “This Year” climbs in with a plan for preservation: “This year we need a deeper frost/Me and my meadow lark,” and relaxed guitar pricks and accordion pulls sound in agreement.
Closer “Now We Hurry On” finds Bowerbirds accepting that life is sometimes ugly and complicated, and what you “see is what you get.” But the loss of innocence evoked in lines like that, and “We used to see the forest/Now we see the trees/We know where this is going,” shows a band not hardened and cynical but wizened and accepting. The latter, hopeful image is cemented by that last song, as it closes out with a minute-and-45-second-long wink of glimmering piano.