Birds of Chicago Premieres Performance Video Featuring Rhiannon Giddens
It's been a rough year. With what feels like a daily onslaught of heartbreaking news, it can be easy to wonder if we'll ever see a day when the good outweighs the bad. A similar sentiment was on the minds of J.T. Nero and Allison Russell when they wrote "American Flowers," the title track off their new EP.
The duo has shared an exclusive video performance of the song with No Depression, showing the pair performing with American Flowers co-producer Steve Dawson as well as none other than Rhiannon Giddens. "I've seen American flowers / they will bloom again," goes the chorus, and for a few minutes the quartet's gentle harmonies and impassioned performances have you believing exactly that.
"'American Flowers' is a song I wrote when I wasn’t feeling too good about much of anything," Nero says. "And I felt a little bit better when it was finished. That’s about as basic and true a statement as I can make about songwriting and songs: they can make you feel better, sometimes. One thing that always makes us -- Alli and me -- feel better is playing songs with our friends. The exchange, the communion -- it’s our daily armor against everything that feels poisoned, eroded or otherwise broken in this world. This video captures an unguarded, relaxed moment: Alli and I playing 'American Flowers' with Rhiannon Giddens and Steve Dawson."
A portion of proceeds from the American Flowers EP will benefit Chicago's South Side based Teen Living Programs, a non-profit that builds community, hope and opportunity for youth who are homeless and at risk
Watch the video and read an exclusive essay from Birds of Chicago friend and fellow musician/producer Joe Henry below.
On “American Flowers,” by Birds of Chicago
Most all of us who are compelled toward the language and luminance of Song are forever on the prowl for the ones that might not only connect our own hearts and minds, but those of our receivers as well.
Sometimes, the broad challenge is answered by grand gesture; but more often, we feel our connectivity most acutely when its picture is drawn in miniature: when the wide world becomes conversationally rendered, and, by the character of true intimacy, befitting an aspiration toward real community.
When I first heard the new song “American Flowers” by Birds of Chicago, I didn’t need to learn of it being inspired by Woody Guthrie’s work to hear within its offering the influence of “the little guy” –the long shadow-sprawl of Woody’s fierce legacy upon both a particularly tremulous national moment, and this heartfelt response to it. The song’s writer and principal singer, JT Nero, isn’t seeing from above, but from down amongst us all –offering with generosity and without one thin blade of judgment a word on the ways in which the so-called “least of us” are nonetheless worthy of being engaged, seen.
Optimism is rarely in vogue or sustainable when, like the great dust storms Woody survived, “the curtain of black” is drawn down around us and our senses are numbed and diminished, our hearts constricted. But within this new song –even in the midst of its depicted loss and alienation– there is buoyancy in our stride: whenever we move, each of us toward another.
Yes, there is darkness on display here, and it is a visage not for the faint of heart. But there also is light; and by it, we not only see where we are, but who. And within the compassion of these images of ourselves as both redeemable and redeeming, we are quietly invited into motion and toward action.
What more do you want out of six minutes this afternoon?