Recommended Cincinnati Concerts: Birds of Chicago at Taft Theatre's Ballroom (Sept. 5)

The Roots duo calls its style “secular Gospel," but everyone else calls it jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring and a much-needed light in dark times

Sep 4, 2018 at 5:45 am

click to enlarge Birds of Chicago - Photo: Big Hassle Media
Photo: Big Hassle Media
Birds of Chicago
If there is any truth to the old adage “the family that plays together, stays together,” JT Nero and Allison Russell can look forward to a long and happy life, as soulmates as well as bandmates. Since 2012, Nero and Russell have fronted Birds of Chicago, a fluid collection of talent that has identified and explored the convergent sweet spot of Folk, Americana and Soul, highlighted by exquisite musicianship and stellar harmonies.

Nero and Russell’s journey began well before the launch of Birds of Chicago. They met while Nero was fronting his band, JT and the Clouds, and Russell was paired up with Be Good Tanyas member Trish Klein in Po’ Girl. The Clouds opened Po’ Girl's Canadian headlining dates, and they reversed marquee positions for the Clouds’ American shows. By 2009, Russell had relocated from Montreal to live with Nero in Chicago and two years later, the two collaborated on Nero’s solo album, mountains/forests. Soon after, they began performing as a duo under their own names and bringing in a rotating cast of friends as accompanists, which led to a Kickstarter campaign for funds to take the group into the studio. Sensing that they needed to give the entity an actual name, Nero and Russell decided to christen their band Birds of Chicago, the album title they had settled on.

After their self-released 2012 debut, Birds of Chicago hit the festival circuit with a vengeance and began making serious waves in the Folk/Americana community. The following year, Nero and Russell were married, and in January 2014, they welcomed a daughter. Russell was touring until just before the baby was born and hit the road four weeks post-birth (with the whole family in tow).

At the end of 2014, Birds of Chicago released their second album, Live From Space, and then launched a hastily organized Kickstarter campaign to back their next studio album, which renowned singer/songwriter Joe Henry had agreed to produce. They reached their $40,000 goal in a week and a half, and released the album, Real Midnight, in 2016. The album was embraced by fans and critics, lauded by NPR and spent a month at No. 1 on the Euro Americana Chart.

Last year, Birds of Chicago signed with Signature Sound and released the digital American Flowers EP, followed this past May by the full-length Love in Wartime, co-produced by Nero and Luther Dickinson, son of legendary Memphis performer/producer Jim Dickinson and frontman of the North Mississippi All-Stars. Birds of Chicago call their style “secular Gospel,” but everyone else calls it jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring and a much-needed light in dark times.

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