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A blog for Joe Henry fans


donderdag 31 maart 2016

My thoughts on 'Real Midnight'



Real Midnight is an album that celebrates love, life and mankind. It is the album that our world needs. 




A beautiful spring day, sitting on the town square, enjoying the sun. Some musicians set up their gear. And then they start playing. Within a few minutes, the square is filled with curious people already waiting for the next song. That is the image that came to me when I heard the first released song ‘Dim star of the palisades’, which is also the opening track for Birds of Chicago’s second album ‘Real Midnight’, produced by Joe Henry. 

It is an album that displays great instrumentation, and beautiful poetry. An album that shows us what magic can happen when you have a group of people, that simply fit perfectly together.

hold on, Tomorrow’s on you like a pack of wild hounds is sung. A life ahead of you, and the future can be both frightening and full of adrenaline. No one knows what it brings…. This is, to me, what this album is about. This first song gives you a head’s up, while the following song ‘ Remember Wild horses’ is the other side of life, where all is left, are memories you have to enjoy. (Beautiful Clarinet solo by the way).


It follows with ‘Kinderspel’. How wonderful to see a title in Dutch, my native language. This word is mostly used to express when we find something very easy. “How did you do that ? “, “Oh, dat was kinderspel”. I don’t know if that interpretation of the word lead to choosing it as title, maybe it’s also just a beautiful sounding word for child’s game. Kinderspel is perhaps the song where the chemistry of this group of people is the clearest. You have off Course Birds of Chicago, backed up for these recordings by drummer Jay Bellerose. Ryan Freeland behind the desk, and Joe Henry in the producers’ seat. With closed eyes I stood in the room, and let it sway me like a floating river for 6 minutes. Slowly it builds up, and the game between Jay and piano, (and later on guitar) is just perfect. It sounds like it was ‘kinderspel’ to record. 
With that title and these lyrics, I listen to the song as the poetry of a mother and her child. But it could easily be about lovers. I wanted peace like a river Allison sings. But who is speaking to whom? It doesn’t matter, that is for the mind of the listener.


 I’ll be burning up for you

Let me go, God bless me

At certain points in life, both mother and child could say it.



The energetic ‘Estrella Goodbye’ catapults me back in to time. The beginning of adult life, and there are no limits for you and your friends. The greatest parties, and biggest fun. Tomorrow is gonna come, and kill tonight. The least you could do is put up a fight are the opening words, and with those sentences they capture the essence of that track. This song is 1 big party, and just when you think it is over, the addictive energy explodes after the break with the girls chanting. Through history, a lot of songs are written trying to create this energy of ultimate happiness, very few succeed. It will be hard for musicians to deliver a better approach then this one. Also : How must it have been recording this in the studio ? The joy it must have been, the excitement that was probably in there. You cannot fake this kind of joy! This is ‘real midnight’ in its most energetic meaning.


The title track gives us another interpretation of midnight. Here it is the darkest moment in the night. It is a song that gives us hope, and learns us that we need to help each other going through that period, and seeing that after the night, there will be a day.

You see, I started writing this review in the days where my country was left numb due to the brutal and un-understandable taking of innocent lives at the Brussels airport and subway station. While most media and politics are occupied with the question: how did we get at this point? I mostly think, where are we heading towards? What is the world we are giving to our children?

‘Real Midnight’ has become a bit of a comfort for me in that question. Off course there is no answer, but the song displays hope, understanding and support. This song is the tale of humanity. We are faced with all this horror, and don’t find answers.


real midnight’s gonna come
real wolves at your door
with blood on their tongues
now what you gonna do
with your days left in the sun?


And who’ standing there ?

When the anger comes,
And it darkens your eyes.



We should all look out for each other. There will be times when we are down, and others up, so let us be there.

Give me those tender kisses,

Lift me up, don’t cut me down,

I know you love me !

It is not always easy, and sometimes we maybe don’t see the end of the tunnel, but in time, when people look back, they’ll see how strong love is !

in 10,000 years
they’ll see our love shine



We are only halfway the album, and already had this amazing palette of emotions of life. Where ‘Real Midnight’ guides us through moments in life where we don’t see it anymore, The Church Gospel ‘Barley’ is about the power of standing strong during tough times.


The wind that shakes the Barley, won’t shake me.


Followed by a true Love ballad ‘Color of Love’, about understanding the intensity of loving. After that : ‘Time and times’ learns us how to move on after lost love. ‘Time and times’ is another example of a great choice in instrumentation. The cloud of fiddle, accordeon and piano is so wonderful.


‘Sparrow’ starts with an unsettling Banjo, and is like a bad dream, where you can’t wake up from. Luckily it is followed by the Joyous ‘The Good fight’. The wonderful Rhiannon Giddens joins in singing. It is a celebration of life.

And then the band packs up,… hits the road,… and the town square continues its life with renewed energy. ‘Pelicans’ makes us look in wonder at our own life, the baggage we all have. Each day is neither a beginning, nor an ending. It is life.




Birds of Chicago is touring Europe in a few weeks.
Apr 23: Eeklo, Belgium
Apr 24: Oldenzaal, Netherlands
Apr 25: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Apr 26: Middelburg Netherlands
Apr 28: Terheijden, Netherlands
Apr 29: Baarn, Netherlands
Apr 30: Groningen, Netherlands
May 2: Belfast, UK
May 4: London, UK
May 7: Ospel, Netherlands
May 8: Nijmegen, Netherlands
May 9: Eindhoven, Netherlands

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