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The Graham Album Review #2181

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Last Birds: Endless Turn of Day into Night

(Independent Release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/17/2024)

Acoustic folk-influenced music is definitely experiencing a revival among emerging groups, and apparently finding younger audiences, with a college radio music chart service now compiling a folk music chart, in addition to the other styles that have been staples among younger audiences. There have been folky quartets and larger groups like The Furious Seasons, and Darlingside, whose albums we have reviewed in this series. But what is interesting is the number of duos who are appearing, along with some who have been on the scene for a while, including Gillian Welch with David Rawlings, and the Milk Carton Kids. And another distinctive aspect is the number of duos who are also marital partners, including The Foreign Landers, Pharis and Jason Romero, The Bombadils, The Lowlies, and 100 Mile House, that we have also reviewed recently. In many cases, it was music that brought the duo together which led from musical partnership to marriage. This week, we have another spouse folk duo, only this time, it is a couple who had been married for over a decade before starting to perform together. They call themselves Last Birds, and their new debut full-length album is titled Endless Turn of Day Into Night.

Last Birds are Lindsey Arnold and Mike Davis. They are from the tiny village of North Portal, Saskatchewan, just across the border from Portal, North Dakota, in the high prairies, population 113, where Ms. Arnold is the town administrator. She is also a visual artist, and filmmaker. Mike Davis, while he as been a professional musician since age 16, also works in the trades, doing dry wall installation, and ran his own construction business for a decade, and creates signs for businesses. The two live with their young daughter in a house they built themselves. Arnold and Clarke were previously in a band together with one Jeff Michel [“Mikle”] in a group called Hook and Nail. The spouses went on to form Lost Birds in 2019, and released an EP in 2021.

But now they are out with a full-length album and it’s a great example of the power that derives from the simplicity of the production, with mostly just two vocals and two guitars. Occasionally there is a little percussion and bass supplied by Jeff Michel, their former bandmate in Hook and Nail, but it’s the two voices in tight harmonies and the two acoustic guitars, with Ms. Arnold strumming and Davis playing lead acoustic guitar. The configuration is very much reminiscent of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, in both the musical arrangements and the vocal harmonies, but that’s certainly nothing to complain about. Many of the songs on the album are centered around their small Canadian village, including a songs about members of Ms Arnold’s family, and about a suicide that took place in the town.

Opening is a track called Give It To Me, which they write, is about about a “patient lover waiting for their desire to be returned.” The sound is plaintive yet engaging. Mike Davis’ lead acoustic guitar recalls David Rawlings with Gillian Welch. <<>>

One of the songs that arose from their village of North Portal is Yellow Roses, about a bunch of those flowers which grow every year by an abandoned house, with speculation on why, based on local legend. <<>>

Back of My Mind was inspired by a local farmer who took his own life. The song wonders what might have been done to prevent it. <<>>

In the title track Endless Turn of Day Into Night, the duo speculates about Ms. Arnold’s grandmother, who never drove and lived in a small town, and whether she might have harbored thoughts of leaving the area, hitchhiking away with a handsome stranger. <<>>

A track called One More draws on personal experience, with Mike Davis being a recovered alcoholic, having done 14 years of sobriety. He says that “drinking is a big part of life in rural Saskatchewan. <<>>

Another lyrically interesting composition is Sounds Like Heaven in which the duo waxes spiritual speculating on what happens after we die, and their hopes that heaven is something like their beloved prairie. <<>>

Also from personal experience is a song called Tom Luck named after a relative whose life seemed to be one bit of bad luck after another, such as his house burning down, a dentist mistakenly pulling all his teeth, when he was supposed to extract just one, and then facing cancer. <<>>

The album closes with Lucky Star is an easy-going song that has the sound of an old traditional country tune, but it was written for a friend who was dying of ALS. <<>>

Endless Turn of Day Into Night the new debut album by the Canadian husband-wife duo Last Birds, is a delightful collection of songs centered mostly on their rural prairie life, in a stark, acoustic setting, with, for the most part, just the two vocals and two guitars. Nothing else is needed, with Mike Davis’ fine lead acoustic guitar work, which often adds emotional enhancement to the songs. Their vocal harmonies are tight and true throughout, and the production is wonderfully understated.

Our grade for audio quality is close to an “A” with the recording keeping with the unadorned musical direction of the album.

While Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, whose music Last Birds resembles, first appeared back in the 1990s, in recent years there has been growing number of acoustic folk groups, especially spouse-duos releasing albums. Last Birds are another outstanding example, and another reason to be encouraged by the state of today’s music.

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This page last updated January 21, 2024