Folk Band Birds of Play Has Taken Flight

click to enlarge Jack Tolan, Alex Paul, Anneke Dean and Eric Shedd of Birds of Play. - SARAH SCHWAB
Jack Tolan, Alex Paul, Anneke Dean and Eric Shedd of Birds of Play.
Sarah Schwab
In September 2018, Alex Paul, frontman for the band Birds of Play, won a solo blues competition at the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival. He'd been wanting to put a band together for a couple of years, and he also had a grant from the Telluride Arts District to record an album. So he called up friends Jack Tolan (guitars, vocals and mandolin) and Eric Shedd (bass, mandolin, guitar and vocals). They started making music, and after recording an album, they went on tour to practice playing together and prepare for the Blues and Brews show.

The three of them would perform anywhere they could, meeting up to play around campfires and for friends. The more they made music together, the more they recognized their undeniable chemistry. Violinist and vocalist Anneke Dean joined the band in summer 2020, adding the perfect string element.

Even before the pandemic, Birds of Play was working remotely. The members were divided between Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming. Paul writes the majority of the songs, and the other members record the bare bones of their tracks and upload them to Google Drive so everyone can learn them. The band was able to create a folk album that makes listeners feel like they're sitting around a campfire with the band under a Colorado sky.

Birds of Play is intrinsically, undeniably Colorado. The group's latest release, Murmurations, Vol. 1, is centered around the natural world and how humans connect with it. "For me, personally, my songwriting approach is to remind myself about how I want to engage with the world," Paul says. "My hope with this approach to songwriting is to inspire the reverence I feel for the natural land."

On the album, the trio of songs "Fate of Saints" comprises "a love story between the San Miguel and Dolores rivers," Paul says. Both rivers start at the top of a pass, the Dolores running south and then north. Inevitably, the rivers return to one another in the end, almost like fate.

On "Gale and Doug," Paul makes another parallel between humans and the natural world, telling a story of love between the wind and a tree. "He's standing waiting for her; it’s clear how he adores her. When she comes ’round, he's caught in her sway," the song goes.

On the composition end, the album is authentically folk with a string of pure country running throughout. With beautiful guitar riffs and violin solos, the music could stand alone even without the profound lyrics. Anyone who enjoys a good acoustic folk song will enjoy it. Listeners can hear running rivers, the sound of Colorado's beloved mountains and the soul of the true natural landscape.

"This is so deeply embedded in my bones, this state and this land," Paul says. "It feels like my most authentic voice to sing about the things I hold near and dear. My community is all up here. My home is Colorado."

Using music to build community is what the band is all about.

"I would love to use this as a catalyst to bring people together," says Paul, "and have the music and band be bigger than us and the songs."

Birds of Play will perform an album-release show at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 29, at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom, 2635 Welton Street. Tickets, $12, are available at the Cervantes' website. Murmurations, Vol. 1 is out now on streaming platforms.