By Daniel Garrett
The Picardy Birds, Play On
Produced by Joe Payne and Emelie Guidry
The life and career of an artist, like that of an intellectual or critic, can be much more precarious than anyone can guess: meals and message and momentum can be much less predictable than one would like. One returns to the work in exhaustion and hope and hunger and inspiration, and against circumstance and all the odds of neglect and rejection one is sustained by the work itself—again and again and again. I think of that looking at the image on the cover of Play On, the song collection by The Picardy Birds: it is an illustration of a hybrid object, a piano topped by a typewriter’s carriage roll, ribbon, and keys; an image indicating musician and writer are one, an image that becomes true in many cases, such as that of the group’s songwriter, the singer and acoustic guitarist Emelie Guidry, who also plays keyboards. With Guidry, The Picardy Birds are drummer Brad Cradeur, guitarist Mike Lahey, bassist Dion Pierre, and vibraphonist and percussionist (and sometimes singer) Jessica Speer; and on certain songs, they are helped by fiddler D’Jalma Garnier, cellist Jamie Landry, trumpeter Josh Leblanc, saxophonist Nick Stephan, and violinist Esther Tyree. I was lucky enough to hear the album Play On a few years ago, but while there were things I liked about it, it did not get my full attention—I like rock music very much, but the pain in my heart inclined me to a much more sensitive sound. It is never too late for discoveries and celebrations—at least, that is what I, like many writers and musicians, hope. It turns out that Play On is a recording in which compassion, desire, fury, and thought all have a place.
“I want to wear your smell all over town,” sings Emelie Guidry, the first line of the first song “All Over Town,” following the tweeting of birds. In Guidry’s voice one hears impulse and something laconic, as if a thing perceived is not entirely spoken, and her voice calls to mind, for me, something of P.J. Harvey; and it is supported by horns, bass guitar, and drums. The song is about the inclination to move a relationship beyond the realm of the commenting spectators of small town life, and it erupts in a furious sound. There is a soft acoustic guitar introduction given to “Big Machine,” matched by a soothing female voice that just begins to sound critical as the music ramps up to a bleating rhythm; and, though possibly mistaken, I think that voice is saying, “What you happen to have now is nothing because you are perfect” and “What you have is not your choice at all.”
The album Play On is not musically monotonous. D’Jalma Garnier’s banjo and fiddle give “Face Values” an earthy swinging sound, over the song’s heavy drum beat. “Five Minutes (And A Day),” a request for someone’s time and patience, has a moodily theatrical sound, with a saxophone interlude. The listener could dance to “Follow,” which moves with a contemporary rhythm, and also features a trumpet, as it explores the theme of romantic conflict.
Some of the lyrics suggest a consciousness that comes out of both social observation and private thought: “Everybody here is hoping someone else will make things all right” and “We can change the ending” are two lines in “Rhythm and Reason,” a composition of voice and guitar with a message of lasting support. When does a person step in to offer criticism or kindness? Social life—with its rituals and values—sometimes makes it likely that some people and not others will receive affection, respect, and understanding; and it takes an independent individual to look around and decide what is worth concern. Individual sensibility sometimes—often times—clashes with folk culture and popular culture; and one has to find a way of making that clash creative rather than destructive. The illustration on the cover of Play On, showing the object that is both piano and typewriter (design and layout attributed to Allison Bohl and Peter DeHart), is evoked in sound at the beginning of “Pop Culture,” which commences with the hitting of typewriter keys, and a start-and-stop beat, and is a song about change and continuity in culture.
Love for a troubled person is expressed in “Movin’ Too Fast,” and Emelie Guidry’s voice has a purity of tone that would be attractive to pursue, to hear more of; and there is a jazzy saxophone in the middle of the song, but the close—with a change of rhythm, a faster rhythm—does not fit as well, though it demonstrates the willingness of the band, Brad Cradeur, Mike Lahey, Dion Pierre, Jessica Speer, and Guidry, to experiment with song structure. The album’s title song “Play On” is a song of reflections: “I found myself caught on the chains I have made” and “Maybe you will be the one to change.” The collection’s close, the downbeat “Words,” featuring violin, embraces what might be a contradiction, or a writer’s challenging and ongoing inspiration, with the statement “your words mean nothing.”
Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Offscreen, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today. Daniel Garrett, who likes jazz, independent rock, and world music, originated two internet logs: one focused on culture and social issues, “City and Country, Boy and Man,” and one focused on books, “The Garrett Reader.” He has been writing a novel, A Stranger on Earth. Contact: dgarrett31@hotmail or D.Garrett.Writer@gmail.com