Bills stacked with quality acts – local, national, both – are quickly becoming the norm at the revitalized Colony Café in Woodstock, where Pete Caigan runs his Flymax studio during the days and where the people go at night. Covers are reasonable, too, for what you’re getting. On July 3, the exceptional songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tracy Bonham brings her new band in, supported by Aaron Maxwell of God Street Wine and – to the point at hand – by the Catskill Mountain roots maximalists Two Dark Birds, whose stellar work needs to be more widely appreciated in the region.
On their 2011 release Songs for the New, Two Dark Birds hit a sweet and distinctive spot on the Americana spectrum. Acoustic and Minimalist at their core but expansive in their rainbow of detail, the arrangements approach the Baroque/folk elegance of “Ophelia” and the best of the Band. Steve Koester’s songs are attuned to (sometimes dark) American myth and supported by dusty and lush, ornate and noirish textures that remind me of nothing so much as Feast of Wire-era Calexico, with more New York and less Southwest. (This is intended, and we hope received, as very high praise indeed.)
In Koester’s songs and in his delivery, you will hear the imprint of the broken-but-not-beaten American Bard, from Parsons and Van Zandt to Tweedy. Koester takes on the populist challenge of the form: how to be at once folk-accessible and lit-deep, how to wed image to experience and emotion without ever getting too fine or too poetic for the idiom. Koester hits the mark again and again, especially when exploring darker themes and archetypal narratives in songs like “Lake Algonquin,” “Ryder Hollow” and the inspired hill-folk haiku of the title track. It’s also an album of subtle and spiritually inflected love-and-loss songs, such as the standout track “Song for Clementine.”
The buoyant, quietly rocking band sparkles throughout a CD of unflagging quality, a CD with an arrangement surprise around every corner. And that’s all the more reason to be psyched about Two Dark Birds’ upcoming Colony Café appearance. Koester, who often performs solo and in stripped-down configurations, will be toting the whole band for this show.