Personnel: Chris Masterson (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, 12-string guitar, resonator guitar); Eleanor Whitmore (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, violin, baritone violin); George Reiff (bass guitar); Falcon Valdez (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixers: The Mastersons; Steven Christensen.
Recording information: The Finishing School, Austin, TX.
Photographers: Matt Bizer; Paul Robert Wright.
The husband-and-wife duo Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore are definitely up the Brooklyn branch of alt-country, much more like Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, say, than George Jones and Tammy Wynette, but the story, love in all its joining and unraveling, is still the same. Yeah, this is a kind of rootsy, Americana album (imagine the Jayhawks with a woman singer who just happens to play a pretty powerful fiddle), but it's one with a subtle big-city twist, and song after song here is about that moment in a relationship when things seem to be breaking down and it's come to the talking part of it. These aren't country songs born of whiskey on a Saturday night in the joint on the corner, these are songs born over coffee the next day at a truck-stop diner on the Interstate in New Jersey. They're talkative country songs, rueful and cautious about love, because love is what it is, and it always requires a dialogue, even if one of the speakers is up and gone and left. This is an interesting album because it talks so much about impasse, which love always seems to face. "Would It Really Be a Sin?" catches the complicated hinges and getaways of a stalled relationship in a pop song, while the regal but sad "Time" talks about, well, time, and how even that can get away in a glance. Then there's the title tune, "Birds Fly South," which sounds a bit like Sparklehorse gone country, and the song's tired, elegant, and almost lurching shuffle rhythm gives it an awkwardly beautiful grace. Some of the songs here blend together in a long discussion of what-are-we-going-to-do-now-with-our-relationship type lyrics, but when everything falls together, as it does with the above songs, the Mastersons deliver a delightfully maverick kind of country love song. This is a fine first album. ~ Steve Leggett