Revisiting An Overlooked Indie Folk Classic from 2012 — Bowerbirds’ “The Clearing”

29 Oct

If you’ve ever visited North Carolina, you know that the state has miles of wide, beautifully landscaped freeways, bounded on both sides by dense woods. These aren’t the towering evergreen forests of the West. They consist largely of a mix of hardwood species — from ash, elm and oak to beech, birch, cherry, and maple. The forests are a lush green in spring and summer; a tapestry of bright reds, oranges and yellows in the fall; and lonely, leave-less sentinels in the Carolina winters.

Somewhere in the midst of one of these forests stands a small cabin that doubles as both a home base and recording studio for indie folk band, Bowerbirds.

Bowerbirds is a collaboration between Phil Moore and Beth Tacular — in life as well as music. The duo released an EP and two full-length albums before 2012’s The Clearing, which established them in the indie music scene.

The Clearing’s creativity and artistry were born from personal chaos. The couple had broken up, and then gotten back together again. They had adopted a dog. And with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, they had raised just enough not only to produce the new album, but also to hand-build the rustic cabin they would call their own. This inspired an album full of self-discovery — about the meaning of life and of death, and of finding their place in the world.

The Clearing starts with a brilliant folk-pop tune called “Tuck the Darkness In.” A strumming guitar and light piano back Moore’s vocals as he muses about how quickly life can pass and how little certainty we have. A violin cries as he sings, “Oh my dear friend, everything falls to death/We tuck the darkness in, we tuck the darkness in.” Interestingly, for a song about the inevitability of death, the melody is quite soothing and reassuring.

The next track introduces us to Tacular’s beautiful vocals on the lilting melody of “In the Yard.” The song is playful, light and full of life — a nice contrast with the subject matter of the opening track. “Stitch the Hem” is another tune in a similar vein, with Moore and Tacular’s vocals sometimes in counterpoint and sometimes harmonizing — perhaps an allegory to the path taken by their relationship. ‘There’s a hope that we have what we need,” they sing.

“Overcome with Light” is a beautiful, heartfelt ballad, obviously penned by Moore for Tacular. He looks back at the difficulties in their relationship and sings, “Yes, we had some scrapes, but now it’s right/Overcome with light.”

The closing track, “Now We Hurry On,” leaves us with hope about the Bowerbirds and, ultimately, our own lives. The song proceeds at a stately pace in the beginning, then shifts into a more up-tempo, syncopated tune about two minutes in — with almost a flamenco guitar, accordion and bright handclaps. The words tell the story…

“No, you’re not alone/The valley is flushed and warm/And breath’s a lazy mist/Take your time with it, all of it/And what we miss we miss/And what we see is what we get.”

The Clearing was undoubtedly one of 2012’s best indie folk albums. With the contemplative days of autumn here, now’s a great time to revisit this wonderful CD.

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