Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Rhythm (3 stars)

Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Rhythm

Punchy experimental blues from Swedish husband and wife duo on fourth album

(The Leaf Label)

Ever since the White Stripes demonstrated that a mere two-piece group could make an unholy racket, there has been a steady stream of recession-beating guitar / drums duos going at it hammer and tongs with varying degrees of success. But why stop there: what about a primal voice / drums set-up instead?

Trust the Swedes, those custodians of forward-thinking popular music, to have roadtested the proposition. Stockholm-based husband-and-wife team Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin – respectively, the wild bird and peace drum of this power outfit – already have three albums, released in quick succession, under their belts, after forming in 2007.

Their latest follows a four-year hiatus in which the couple undertook a blizzard of side projects, including solo albums, performance and production work, then set up their own studio in order to take care of every aspect of writing, playing and producing this album. Wallentin’s rich alto vocals would not be out of place on a modern R&B album – never more so than on the old-school soulful ‘Keep Some Hope’ – and neither would her husband’s rhythmic armoury.

But rather than coat their gutsy compositions in glossy, commercial production, the couple have kept it lean, recording together, side by side, in single takes for a much more organic and punchy sound. Rhythm has abstract moments such as ‘Mind Blues’ with its multi-tracked cooing, oriental percussion and something near scat vocals. But mostly, this is accessible, instinctive stuff. Even as Wallentin’s vocals follow the rhythmic patterns of ‘Ghosts & Pains’, the track develops into a bluesy worksong which is more earthy than experimental.

She makes the most of her tribal vibrato on ‘Who I Was’ and ‘Everything All the Time’, invoking the strong-minded likes of Buffy Sainte-Marie, Grace Slick and sometime collaborator Lykke Li in the process. Deploying a looser delivery across a number of lithe tracks, she also draws deeply and imaginatively on jazz and even gospel roots.

Wildbirds & Peacedrums - The Offbeat (Official Video)

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