When Birds of Play released Murmurations Vol. 2 in February, the plan was to immediately jump on a Colorado tour.
"[B]ut our lead guitarist and mandolin bandmember, Jack Tolan, has been dealing with a tenositis [inflamed tendon] issue and needed some more time to rest his wrist,” explains lead singer Alex Paul, who also plays the guitar and mandolin. “It’s been tough for him because he’s such an expressive guitarist, and the instrument is an outlet for him to channel his emotions. But we’re tailoring the set list so he can play the mandolin in the show and other members can play more guitar parts.”
Birds of Play is rounded out by Eric Shedd (bass, mandolin, guitar and vocals) and newest bandmember Anneke Dean (violin), who joined the flock in 2020. The Americana/bluegrass/folk quartet will celebrate the release of Murmurations Vol. 2 with a party at the Tuft Theatre at Swallow Hill Music on Friday, April 15.
The eight-track collection is full of gentle-to-more-robust playing and vocal contributions from the multi-instrumentalists. The opening track, “Tareb,” is woven with nimble guitar and mandolin-plucking; subtle, sweeping violin lines; and rich harmonies.
Written by Tolan, Paul says the song was inspired by a conversation his bandmate had a couple of years ago, when he heard the term “Tareb” for the first time. “The Arabic word (طَرَب) framed this whole album," says Paul, "because ‘Tareb’ means a deeply shared and joyous musical exchange between the performer and audience. And as a band, we are all dear friends who are deeply invested in our fans. Community and cultivating meaningful connections is huge to us.”
During the pandemic, the band even rented a generator so it could play socially distanced mini-shows in the woods. “We do a lot of community-building," Paul says, "especially at the more intimate gatherings, because we’re actually developing relationships with people." That’s something Birds of Play has done since Paul formed the band in Telluride in 2018. And fans know it.
In November 2020, Paul, who spent the past six years living in the small Colorado town of Ophir, just outside of Telluride, initiated a crowdfunding campaign that raised $22,000. The money came from thirty generous donors in the Telluride community. “We’re grateful that people show up time and time again to share their enthusiasm with us. It’s really moving to feel that love, belief and support for what we’re doing," says Paul.
Just last October, the band launched a local Kickstarter campaign in the same community and raised over $25,000. “A lot of people had been asking us, ‘How can we help you guys? How can we support you?’" Paul explains. "We knew we had a big vision for the two volumes, where we really wanted to get the music out to as many people as we could and we wanted to release both albums in vinyl apart from online." The proceeds raised helped Birds of Play pay for the recording, mixing and mastering of Murmurations Vol. I and Murmurations Vol. 2.
Both volumes were tracked in one week at Swingfingers Recording Studio in Fort Collins at the beginning of the year. “The band came down to Ophir to rehearse the songs together, and then we went straight into the studio,” Paul says, adding that the experience was cathartic. "The joyousness of the vibe in the studio was palpable. I think that comes through on our albums. It was magical to have that time to be creative together.”
Rife with a mélange of sentimentality and playfulness, Birds of Play’s music takes the listener on a journey filled with stories of love lost and found, ballads of majestic places and the idea that being happy for no reason at all is reason enough. “Our mission is to use our music and platform to uplift as many humans as possible while making this world a kinder, gentler, more loving place," Paul says.
The band, which describes itself as “a musical collaboration born from a mutual love of desert canyons, raging rivers, rocky mountaintops, and juice picnics,” threads a cohesive theme of connection, unity, a deep reverence for the natural world, and a profound gratitude for life through its latest albums. “I feel like they make sense together," Paul says. "They both breathe connection and togetherness, but at the same time, they’re not trying to be too similar.”
On Murmurations Vol. I, songs like “Fate of Saints,” a love story between the San Miguel and Dolores rivers, and “Gale and Doug,” another romantic tale about the wind and a tree, have become fan favorites, says Paul. “We play so much in this region that people sing along and hoot and holler when we perform them live.”
Paul recalls the inspiration behind both songs. “I had just moved to Ophir and was so enamored and felt deeply connected to and inspired by the land there. I wanted do it justice, and I didn’t know how to do that without coming across cliché or corny. I remember having this idea of bringing the land to life as a character, and the songs wrote themselves from there,” he says.
Birds of Play release show, 8 p.m. Friday, April 15, Tuft Theatre, Swallow Hill Music, 71 East Yale Avenue. Tickets are $18-$20. Murmurations Vol. 2 is out now on streaming platforms.