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A Slight Departure – Birdsong At Morning – Expanded Edition (Video & Pure Audio Blu-ray + CD) – Blue Gentian

A Slight Departure – Birdsong At Morning – Expanded Edition (Video & Pure Audio Stereo Blu-ray + CD) – Blue Gentian 008, 53:22 (7/21/15) ****:

A very unusual video Blu-ray plus CD and unusual hi-res music too. (1st Amazon button may be for the CD alone, the 2nd for the Blu-ray)

(Alan Williams – acoustic & electric guitar, marimba, vibraphone, vocals; Greg Porter – bass, backing vocals; Darleen Wilson – electric guitar, backing vocals; Ben Wittman – drums, percussion; Robert Holmes – electric guitar; The Mehr Aufgaben Orch. – strings; David Moore – musical saw; Helen Sherra-Davies – violin solo; Thomas J. – electric, acoustic guitar)

Birdsong At Morning is an unusual group. The core group consists of Alan Williams (songwriter, guitar, vocals), Greg Porter (bass) and Darleen Wilson (electric guitar). The first configuration occurred in the folk/rock band Knots and Crosses. Problems with their label impeded any measurable success. Then Birdsong At Morning was firmed and filmed…Their debut in 2011 was a 4-CD box set, Annals Of My Glass House. With a combination of folk/pop music and orchestrated strings, the core talent of these individuals has been articulated.

Birdsong Act Morning has returned with a new release that showcases the group’s “chamber/pop” sensibility. A Slight Departure – Expanded edition consists of a Blu-ray (which offers various hi-resolution audio versions, three videos and a 40-minute feature on the making of the album) plus a standard stereo CD. At once, the listener is drawn to the intimate, lush arrangements of these Alan Williams compositions. “The Great Escape” has introspective lyrics, dreamy electric guitar and accented strings that provide aural expansion and counterpoint. The romantic imagery is diverse on tracks like “Never To Part”. Even in a more acoustic framework, the arrangement is textured with strings and backing vocals. There is a subtle, funky hook that is refreshing. With a darker tone, “Murderous Friend” is scaled back, but still ethereal. The repeat chorus line adds to the dramatic context.

A Slight Departure has some dynamic shifts in musical tone. “Devil’s Stomping Ground” is bathed in “Middle Eastern” motifs with lyrical violin runs. The combination of narrative intimacy, steady pulse and exotic instrumentation is compelling. Another highlight is “Midnight Vespers”. The spiritual resonance is tendered with precise, flowing acoustic guitars. Here, there are no strings, but the musical landscape is not reduced. Williams’ higher-register vocals are connective and emotional. The capacity to explore  ruminative thoughts and pair them with a breezy folk vibe is at the essence of “Mountainside”.

This album retains a highly personal vision. “Pages’ is a love ballad with lead acoustic guitar and electric guitar shading. Williams adds some falsetto to the performance. Another pleasant surprise is the ebullient instrumental, “Kipahulu Sunrise”. The addition of a musical saw is a nice touch, and the communication of mood is prevalent. The finale, “Lead Me On” utilizes an extended string opening that feels cinematic.

A Slight Departure – Expanded Edition can be experienced in a variety of formats. There are two 5.1 mixes (both are stellar) and a 24/96 stereo instrumental version. Extras include three videos and a feature on the making of the album.

TrackList:

The Great Escape; Never To Part; Murderous Friend; Devil’s Stomping Ground; Midnight Vespers; Dimestore Dreamers. Mountainside; Pages; Not For Sale; Kipahulu Sunrise; Down In The Hole; Lead Me On

Blu-ray: The complete album in 5.1 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio 24/96; 5.1 Surround PCM 24/96; Instrumental Stereo PCM; 24/96 Music Videos of Never to Part; Devil’s Stomping Ground; The Great Escape

CD (Stereo PCM 16/44.1) TrackList: (see above)

—Robbie Gerson

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