Bird Of Youth's Beth Wawerna continues a strong tradition of journalists turned musicians. Women like Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde both saw writing about music as an essential part of their artistic paths. Wawerna worked for both Spin and VH1 since she moved north to NYC from her Atlanta home years ago. Defender, Bird Of Youth's first release, is a worthy debut by an woman who has paid her dues.
Thanks to her connection to Okkervil River's leader Will Scheff, Wawerna's career as a musician has had a nice bit of early momentum. She sang on the last two Okkervil River albums, and she and Sheff have often shared the stage together. Sheff returns the favor by co-producing Defender.
As you might expect from a music writer, Bird Of Youth has a focused sound that is built upon classic sounds. Citing influences from the southern pop bands of her youth (REM, the Rock A Teens), Wawerna also digs back to 50s girl group sounds filtered through Nico's chanteuse sensibility.
The songs on Defender shimmer providing a sense of light shown on the album artwork. Wawerna's vocals have a distant quality to them, but that only adds to the overall effect. "Right On Red" begins the record with a sense of morning awakening before settling into shoop-shoop 50s homage. "When The Wings Hit The Shed" continues this folk pop sound. Countryish guitars ring throughout "The Great Defender" before segueing into the lullaby sounds of "Sex, Blood and Fire".
Throughout Defender, Wawerna and her band continue this mixture of musical decades creating a wonderful femininity within each groove. Don't think this means Defender lacks strength - not at all. It is just rare that female musicians can be both assertive and feminine at once. Bird Of Youth succeeds at this tremendously.
By the time the album ends with "One Hand Able", it's dirge-like pacing of a distinctly retro sound feels like a party girl finding herself worn down, lost in early morning after the evening has been long over. Bird Of Youth takes the listener inside Wawerna's world.
Like a high school girl's bedroom walls decorated with her heroes and dreams, Defender delicately balances youthful hopes against adult realities.
- Jim Markel