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Bird on a wire

The Feather Lungs show big heart on Arrival
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  October 3, 2014

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For a band who’ve sold 35 million records, Heart seem unappreciated. The Wilson sisters are rock pioneers. How many classic album-rock bands featured female singers and guitarists? Maybe Fleetwood Mac can claim as much estrogen-fueled bravado.

Their genre was basically 99 percent guys with silk robes and mustaches. But everyone had great feathered hair.

Also unappreciated: Bert Sugarman’s Midnight Special, which captured a bunch of classic Heart live performances (clearly performed live, judging by the guitar work) now available on the YouTube.

It’s hard to think such a program wouldn’t be a great venue for the Feather Lungs, a gal-fronted rock outfit that released their debut Arrival this month. Like Heart, singer Laura England Wood sorta came upon the long-historied rhythm section of Richard Fortin (drums) and Nick Perry (bass) with a mess of songs and looking for a band. (This column would not be interested in whether the band suffers from the same dramatic romantic affairs, however.)

As with those of Fortin’s Alias Grace (anyone who names a band after a Margaret Atwood novel gets a good bit of rope with me), these wind up as aggressive and nuanced songs, even if it’s in many ways Wood’s band. She wrote the lyrics and melodies and she’s never easy to miss from track to track, mixed right to the fore and with few instrumental breaks of any extended period.

For my money, though, Perry is what makes the band particularly interesting. The best track (fittingly, for an extended reference here) is “Heartburn,” and Perry is the glue, climbing and diving low as Wood stokes the drama: “Sticks and stones are sharp / Her hands are all cut up / It doesn’t hold her up, it makes her feel alive / The tiny deaths help her to survive.”

Wood is pretty brassy all over the seven songs here, but she’s best when measured, as she is when climbing to falsetto in that verse. The bridge shows the band’s prog leanings, going straight rock-pop, but only for about 15 seconds.

Guitarists David Young and Peter Herman are remarkable for being unpredictable. Without ever delivering a true solo, they manage to do a fair bit of noodling. On “Dull Blade” and elsewhere it can sometimes seem like they’re playing two different songs in two different channels, whether indie rock pings in the chorus or full southern rock in the open, but with a tinge of metal. It’s like Twisted Roots doing Alabama Shakes songs, maybe. 

Fortin is pounding the cymbals in the finish, and he keeps it up in “Daydream,” which is downright glam rock, not all that far from the new Hessian album.

As with songs like “Sea Spell” and the title track, Wood can ride metaphor pretty hard, sometimes laying it on pretty thick. But she can also be starkly direct: “I feel so alive.” The latter has something of a Manchester sound, opening with a solitary kick drum and single electric guitar to support the vocals, then really riding the bass for melody after repeating triple snares.

You certainly can’t say they lack ambition, but I think they’d be especially good live. Sorry to have missed them as part of that Empire anniversary show last week. Where’s Burt Sugarman when you need him? 

ARRIVAL | Released by the Feather Lungs | thefeatherlungs.com

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