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Sweet home Chicago

Allison Russell and JT Nero of band Birds of Chicago
Allison Russell and JT Nero of band Birds of Chicago

A musical tree with branches extending to Canadian/American roots outfits such as Be Good Tanyas, Po’ Girl and Carolina Chocolate Drops has another offshoot to be explored in Sheffield next week.

Birds of Chicago, a collective based around Allison Russell and JT Nero, appear at the Greystones on Tuesday (May 8).

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 called 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 their daughter Ida Maeve.

Birds of Chicago’s musical approach is rich and soulful, slotting into the current enthusiasm for all things Americana and drawing heavily on the gospel tradition.

Fans of the likes of Be Good Tanyas and Po’ Girl are likely to find kindred spirits.

Russell and Nero’s declared hope is 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”.

“Most people in this country are good people,” they say.

“Most people in this world are good people.

“We’ve been saying it like a mantra of late. We travel from town to town, red state to blue state, all over 
the globe, and no matter what, we believe this to be true.”

Ever prepared to do their bit, Birds of Chicago aim to further capture hearts and minds with their new album, Love In Wartime, a follow-up to American Flowers.

Meanwhile, they are living up to their reputation as a hard-working band that plays around 200 dates a year, having embarked on a tour that brings them to the UK as well as Ireland, Netherlands and Belgium.

“It’s been too long since we’ve seen our extended familia on that side of the water, and we’re more than ready,” they say.

“We’re especially thrilled to be bringing the full band over for the first time — we’ll be rocking the quintet the entire run.  

“Dance moves shall be executed and observed for cultural comparative studies!”

After returning for an American and Canadian tour, they are back in the UK in the summer for their first appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival.

That’s thanks to the influence and enthusiasm of curator Rhiannon Giddens, the American singer and musician formerly with Carolina Chocolate Drops and remembered fondly for a solo date at the Greystones.

Birds of Chicago offer a familiar refrain, but one they believe is as relevant as ever: Peace, Love, Music.

n The Small Glories, comprising Cara Luft and JD Edwards from the Canadian Prairies, bring their mix of folk and old time Americana to the Greystones on Thursday, May 24.