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Heather Masse
Bird Song
Review By Steven Stone
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  Although Bird Song is her first solo album, Heather Mouse isn't some dewy-eyed teen chanteuse. As a vocalist and bass player in the folk "super-group," The Wailin' Jennys, Masse has been performing in concert halls and pop venues for years. She also comes armed with excellent academic credentials - not too many folksingers are New England Conservatory of Music graduates.

Bird Song differs from Masses' work with The Wailin' Jennys in several profound ways. First, instead of folk tunes, every song here is a Masse original. The material on Bird Song covers a wide range of genres. Some tunes, such as "Mornings Breaking The Rules," have a slightly country flavor while others, like "Orphan Girl," draw heavily from traditional folk roots. Masses' ability to combine multiple influences into each tune demonstrates her complete understanding and internalization of American musical styles.

Masse's vocals have a slightly pop/jazz inflection, which is no surprise, given that Masse majored in jazz vocals at NEC. The CD is also less rigidly orchestrated, with more breathing room for the backing instruments and vocals than on a typical Wailin' Jennys' arrangement. Also Masse uses harmony vocals sparingly, especially compared to the Jennys' signature three-part leads.

Produced by Masse with help from engineer Kent Heckman, keyboard player Jed Wilson, guitarist Lyle Brewer, bassist Karl Doty, drummer JeolArnow and harmony vocalist Aoife O'Donovan, Bird Song certainly qualifies as a group effort. But unlike recipes administered by too many cooks, Bird Song doesn't sound over-seasoned. Instead this musical democracy has the same feeling as a relaxed jam session where everyone has been playing together for years.

Often "side projects" from members of successful groups have a throwaway or meandering quality to them as if their creators are looking for a new direction. Heather Masse's Bird Song runs counter to this trend it displays Masse's true musical identity with focus and conviction.

 

 

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