The Wooden Birds, hailing from Austin, began as Andrew Kenny's post-American Analog Set recording project. Their first album Magnolia was released in 2009, and though a strong debut, it had the feel of a solo rather than group album. After a couple of years of touring under their belt with the same group members, the Wooden Birds latest album, Two Matchsticks, shows that Kenny has created another formidable band that can stand nicely alongside of the fine work he did with AmAnSet.
The influences of folk influenced artists like Iron and Wine have cast a long shadow on the indie music scene as its "less is more" approach has found a great many followers. Andrew Kenny brought that aesthetic to the Wooden Birds from the start largely because he explored similar territory with AmAnSet without using folk-styled instrumentation that he now uses with the Wooden Birds.
Kenny has always been a master of focused and streamlined music. The American Analog Set might have had an atmospheric spacey vibe, but its songs remained grounded. The Wooden Birds has allowed Kenny to strip his music down to even more elemental level. It is almost like Magnolia served as a reset and now Two Matchsticks shows the road ahead.
Examining YouTube clips of the Wooden Birds performing songs from Magnolia in a live setting, the beginnings of Two Matchsticks can be seen. With a strong band beneath him, Kenny and his mates were bringing more energy to the songs. This energy and tightness between the players began to bear fruit as an incredible pop music machine, pop music in the best sense.
As a result, Two Matchsticks brilliantly splits the difference between two amazing bands, Iron and Wine and the now defunct Vulgar Boatmen. Iron and Wine's albums The Shepherd's Dog had a moody, but driving acoustic sound. The Vulgar Boatmen, a lesser-known, but amazing band from Gainesville, FL, had this same driving acoustic sound, but they added in older rock influences like Buddy Holly. On Two Matchsticks, the Wooden Birds provide all of the above.
From the simple percussive sounds that root and drive each track to the pretty harmonies between Andrew Kenny and Leslie Sisson, these songs melt from your ear to your heart like sugar does on the tongue. There are no wasted notes or stray thoughts on any song. Like the Boatmen, the Wooden Birds' lyrics bring life to the everyday which meshes well with the band's subtle sounds as you can see in this statement of love from "Criminals Win":
Cause I don't want to make you sad today
If I could rewind and erase everything
Everything that's ever been done
Cause we can make out while the record plays
We could argue 'til we're old, babe
But some fights will never get won
It's just like real love
The vocals of Kenny and Sisson work well together. They can blend or they can create a counterpoint. This allows the Wooden Birds to sound pop on one track ("Too Pretty To Say Please") and country like Gram and Emmylou on the next ("Warm To The Blade"). Kenny even has Sisson singing lead on one of the album's best songs, "Baby Jeans".
At the perfect sub-40 minute album length, Two Matchsticks gives the listener the aural comfort of spending a rainy Sunday afternoon under a soft furry blanket. The happier moments playing alongside the more contemplative, moody ones provide a sense of familiar warmth. Stripped down and basic, like the essence of life itself, the simplicity of Two Matchsticks announces that Andrew Kenny is not only back, but perhaps in even a better place than he was before.
- Jim Markel
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