Ocoee is the second full-length release from Nashville, TN-based Drumming Bird, led by frontman/guitarist/singer Austin Sawyer. He describes the album as a “love letter to East Tennessee” with lyrical imagery set around the small town that shares its name with the album.
Instrumentation on Ocoee is straight-ahead Americana. Drumming Bird uses vocals, guitars (acoustic and electric), bass, drums and the classic keyboard sounds: piano, electric piano and a variety of organs. Most vocals are handled by Sawyer; nice female backing work is sprinkled throughout. There aren’t many surprises; the radio-friendly album was recorded in central Tennessee, and reflects that typical sound.
It’s well-executed, to be sure. Arrangements are planned and taut, and serve the catchy songs well. “Nights Turn to Nothing” is a great example of this with its layers of piano, organ and slide guitar backing a lovely vocal duet which builds up into a just-right guitar lead. “Weekend Fisherman,” too, changes its texture throughout with nicely-effected slide guitar and a wash of backing vocals adding continued interest underneath the story. Upon repeated listenings of Ocoee, you’ll discover your own little easter eggs, such as the tinkly piano on the second verse of “Living On Your Own.”
For this genre, lyrics are key, and those on Ocoee are generally strong. Some are insightful (“Putting up with a heart of gold is hard” / “Living on your own is cool till everyone’s gone”), and some paint a picture of East Tennessee life (“Sunset cast fire upon the river” / “You were a weekend fisherman, a lousy caster”). Drumming Bird’s imagery puts us right in the story.
If I’d change anything on the record, it would be the mix. For me, the vocals are just a bit low--I want to hear the stories a bit more clearly. The title track, especially, was muddy: the drums are buried, and there seems to be some distortion with the mastering. It’s an odd result, given how the rest of the album is so nicely balanced.
These comments aside, Ocoee is an enjoyable spin. These are well-crafted, well-played songs that celebrate small-town Tennessee life. Well done!
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