Scott Barkan - Flightless Bird (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
SCOTT Barkan isn’t the first artist to acknowledge Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley as inspirations and he won’t be the last. But he’s one of the few that puts that admiration into compelling practice when it comes to delivering the goods musically.
His new album, Flightless Bird, weaves introspective melodic Americana lyrics with intricate guitar chords and undertones of jazz and whiskey soaked blues.
The New York-based singer-songwriter and guitarist described the ensuing collection of songs as the album he was made to make. The songs themselves share common themes of self-doubt and the search for purpose in life and has that all-important relatability that makes songs great.
Title track and opener Flightless Bird, for example, has a dusky folk-rock vibe, with some whiskey soaked piano chords to accompany the husky vocals. It declares from the outset “don’t expect too much from me, I’m a flightless bird” but then proceeds to deliver a lot more than may have been anticipated. It’s a bold move, though, to begin with an apology.
And while Richard Thompson and Leonard Cohen followers are just two of the listeners that Barkan suspects may also like him, then Bad Dreams will also play well to afficionados of Ryan Adams and artists of that nature. It’s a melodic folk-rocker of effortless enjoyability.
Barkan’s songwriting is steeped in classic values and while some songs may take a few listens to properly appreciate and other slowly unfurl their secrets and require patient attention, there’s always something interesting going on.
Leaving Here is a good example of a grower, unfolding in almost stripped back form with a stark voice declaring “I am leaving here” before slowly layering in the elements and warming up. Barkan strips things back down for the finale, but such is the clever way he layers in the instrumentals that when he returns to that “I am leaving here” you may have forgotten you were listening to the same song. In a good way.
Of note, too, are the intricate acoustics of Gone Away and the toe-tapping melodicism of Wishing Well, which showcase the intimacy and the accessibility of this particular artist at various points, not to mention the disarming lyrical honesty.
In short, Scott Barkan’s Flightless Bird is well worth checking out. It quite often soars in spite of its grounded sensibilities.
Download picks: Flightless Bird, Bad Dreams, Leaving Here, Gone Away, Wishing Well