SUNBIRDS – ‘Cool To Be Kind’

Dave Hemingway and Laura Wilcockson deliver a rootsy gem, writes Eoghan Lyng.

“Sharing vocal duties with Laura Wilcockson, Hemingway and SUNBIRDS dial the clock back to the sunnier days when Delaney & Bonnie were the duo of choice…”

Fast forward fifty years from when Ringo Starr unveiled Beaucoup of Blues, his personal tribute to the country genre that had excited him in the streets of Liverpool, and with SUNBIRDS’ debut album Cool To Be Kind, Dave Hemingway, formerly of The Housemartins and Beautiful South, demonstrates a comparable reverence for the genre, and the result is one of the most fitting homages any Nashville aficionado has committed to tape in 2020.

Straight from the off, Meet You On The Northside boasts a rockabilly quality scarcely heard on Dave Hemingway’s work with The Housemartins. Sharing vocal duties with Laura Wilcockson, Hemingway and SUNBIRDS dial the clock back to the sunnier days when Delaney & Bonnie were the duo of choice. Burning through the lyrics comes Phil Barton’s guitars, bringing with him a romantic flair to jaunty pop vignettes Hatred Lies In The Ruins of Love and Gene Kelly.

Name-checking the Beatle drummer’s most famous band, power ballad When I’m Gone washes listeners with a soundscape that feels pleasantly Beatlesque (drummer Marc Parnell sounds like he’s been playing along to Help! and A Hard Day’s Night, as evinced by the swampy fills that decorate the backdrop.) Wilcockson – a violin player by trade – colours Longcuts with a series of passages, each stroke more delicate in tone than the liturgical lyric that passes her mouth. And then there’s the splashes of guitar performances heard on Please Yourself, demonstrating a pedal steel style that could have only come from a place of unbridled truth.

Laura Wilcockson – Lead vocals and violin.

Sadness enters the album, first by virtue of a  melancholic guitar (The Black Sea), and then by way of a mournful, even funereal, closer (Stars Still Shine). In keeping with the country genre, regret -purer in tone than the more celebrated European variety – comes into the proceedings, as a lonely narrator opines that, “Anywhere is better than this place.” Concentrating on the spirits that transitioned from primitive, primordial music to the modern day rock and roll lexis, Hemingway boasts the most detailed vocal of his career, sidelining any inevitable Housemartins/Beautiful South comparisons for a sharper, singular rendition.

And with that the album ends, not with a salute, but a tearful final word. The silence – deafening in its determination – illustrates a power even louder than the electric guitars Barton plays. With a month to go before Christmas, this review would do itself no favours by declaring it one of the highpoints of 2020, but we will take this time to declare the album one of the highpoints of its rootier ilk. It only took fifty years for someone to show there’s never too much beaucoup of blues!


❉ SUNBIRDS: ‘Cool To Be Kind’ (NRCD1) was released 27 November 2020 on the independent label Nectar Records, distributed by Right Track Distribution/Universal. For more information on Sunbirds visit: Website |  Facebook | Twitter |  Instagram 

  A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Eoghan Lyng’s ‘U2: Every Album, Every Song’ is published by Sonicbond Publishing and available to buy from Burning ShedFollow him on TwitterVisit his homepage. 

Header image: Dave Hemingway – Lead vocals.

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