It’s a swift return to Sheffield for the American/Canadian roots outfit Birds of Chicago.
Fronted by husband and wife JT Nero and Allison Russell, they played the Greystones last May, going on to win new admirers in the summer at the Cambridge Folk Festival.
This time dates, including the Greystones next Thursday (January 24), are lined up in advance of appearances at AmericanaFest UK in London and Celtic Connections in Glasgow.
Russell, who was brought up in Montreal, was a singer-songwriter with Canadian roots group Po’ Girl, and found her ideal partner – musical and more – in Nero, who was fronting a Chicago-based band, JT and the Clouds.
The chemistry was immediate after Nero was implored to “meet this 19-year-old girl who taught herself to play clarinet and how to sing like a ‘20s blues speak-easy singer”.
It led to the formation of Birds of Chicago in 2012, their marriage the following year and the subsequent arrival of daughter Ida Maeve.
The previous Greystones date underlined their reputation for a strand of Americana infused with elements of soul and gospel. The label of ‘secular gospel’ has been attached to them.
Whatever, the singing is stirring and joyful, with Nero and Russell’s harmonies an integral part of a compelling equation.
Nero plays guitar, Russell plays banjo and, strikingly, clarinet, which helps them to stand out in the crowded Americana market.
With the two constants, Birds of Chicago have become something of an extended family since starting to tour full time in 2013.
After appearing as a five-piece in Sheffield last May, the latest date (the start of a UK tour three days after a Songwriters’ Festival in Florida) sees them performing as a trio, joined by guitarist John Dawson.
Now based in Nashville, Birds of Chicago are finding an enthusiastic audience tuned into the likes of Be Good Tanyas, Po’ Girl and Rhiannon Giddens (the American singer and musician formerly with Carolina Chocolate Drops).
No doubt their latest tour will see them playing songs from their latest album, Love In Wartime, a follow-up to American Flowers.
They continue to express the hope that “beautiful words and music can help act as a “healing balm” in times they have described as feeling “particularly toxic” and with “a growing sense of dread”.
Last November they performed a string of dates in California in aid of victims of the devastating fires in the county.
They take their music and responsibilities seriously.
JT Nero, chief songwriter for the band, says: “A good show can send you back out into the night feeling -- for at least a little while – that everything isn’t broken. Right now, we wanna dose out as much of that feeling as we can.”
A Canadian connection will already have been in evidence at the Greystones on Tuesday (January 22) with the arrival of Twin Bandit - Vancouver folk singers Hannah Walker and Jamie Elliott – who are touring in support of their latest album, Full Circle. Support comes from the Saskatoon-based roots singer-songwriter Steph Cameron.
*Up-and-coming young American singer, guitarist, banjo player and songwriter Molly Tuttle appears at the Greystones on April 18.