By: Chip McCabe
There’s a soft rain falling outside, washing away the dirt and debris of a mortally humid Summer day. The air smells fresh and clean for the first time all day. The little rivers and pools collecting on the Earth below are beautiful in their swirling and changing patterns. Birds flutter overhead, seemingly flapping their wings to the rhythm of the pitter-patter. It’s the type of rain you don’t mind standing in for awhile, hoping it will wash away your own spiritual dirt and debris. It probably won’t in the end but for those few refreshing, glorious moments you could be connected back to Mother Nature for just long enough to forget what might be waiting for you when the sun does rise above the clouds again. In certain esoteric traditions water is often associated with the qualities of emotion and intuition. There may not be a better record to listen to right now than Modest Quarters, the brand new release from Connecticut’s Ponybird. Filled with ample amounts of emotion, intuition and esoteric traditions, it’s an album as refreshing and contemplative and beautiful as a cool summer rain.
It looks like the sky is going to rain today, feels like a flood from the stars…
Jennifer Dauphinais is a songwriter’s songwriter. She takes her time with her compositions, seeing them through the stages of life, the way a parent watches a child grow. Heavy-handed when necessary, helpless at other times, in love from start to finish. Maybe that’s why it’s been five years since the last album she released under the Ponybird moniker, maybe there were other factors? Whatever the reasons, one thing that is clear is Dauphinais wasn’t going to allow these songs to see the light of day until every layer, every instrument, every note, every word, was set down with deadly accurate precision. The cover photo for this album shows Dauphinais walking along a desolate beach, suitcases in hand, the ocean readying to lap up her tracks and disguise her escape route. She’s clearly on a journey with this album, each song one pit stop, one phase of this mystical voyage in which we are allowed this voyeuristic look inside the soul of a woman possessed with the spirits of those who came before her. She’s an old soul, this one, and she writes like one too.
Ponybird has always been a one-woman show with a cavalcade of talented helpers. On Modest Quarters, Dauphinais surrounds herself with a virtual who’s who of the Connecticut music scene. Guest appearances come from the likes of James Maple, Becky Kessler (Violent Mae) and Matt Thomas (M.T. Bearington) among others, as well as the production magic of Eric Lichter at Dirt Floor Studios. The end result is Ponybird’s magnum opus. It’s the album she’s been building up to and waiting to exhale upon us like the mist of the ancient ocean she strolls through on the album’s cover. This album is a spirit walk, a gathering of some of the tribe’s most powerful shamans, unleashed with enough energy and force to uncoil emotions we constantly bury. Moment after moment of this album washes away the sheen and the facade of life’s drudgery.
And I saw you there in the storm…in the threads…in the songs…
Ponybird is rooted in Americana but the transcendental nature of these songs begs and cries out for some type of better classification. Yes, there is pedal steel, there is a country ethos that runs throughout. Often though it’s shattered in the smooth, controlled bombast of horns like on “Infamously,” or the upbeat indie rock of “Tender Trap,” or more often in some type of psychedelic ambiance no self-respecting cowboy would dare be caught in. Which is why some of our best cowboys past and present – Gram Parsons, Willie Nelson, Sturgill Simpson, Matthew Houck, etc. – often take their auditory peyote trips knowing the locals will be ashamed of their antics. It’s that same trip to the proverbial desert that Dauphinais and her band of hired guns make on this album (with maybe a little extra peyote for good measure).
It’s raining harder, only now the darkness is too thick to see it. Somewhere out there a voice is calling, “Come back to me…” over and over. It’s Dauphinais on one of the album’s most powerful tracks, “Thief.” Who is she calling for? Does it matter as long as her voice cuts across space and time and reaches its intended target? (That’s not rain on your cheeks, by the way…) The rain washes away the dirt and the debris, Ponybird does the equivalent in a torrent of sentiment and intuition, tenderness and consternation, compassion and concern. By the end of this record it feels as cathartic for the listener as it probably did for the artist, the true measure of the shared experience. It’s an experience you should share immediately.
Modest Quarters is out now and available for digital download at the Ponybird Bandcamp page.