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Album Review | 'Garden Dream'


Tough Old Bird is an Americana band on the periphery of the Finger Lakes folk scene. And while the Buffalo native duo Matthew and Nathan Corrigan perform in Rochester periodically, they have always carried with them an “in this world but not of it” relationship to the 585 music landscape.

Musically, TOB’s dreamy aesthetics also have a decidedly detached feel, with the Corrigan brothers utilizing lulled timbres and tempos that never exceed a tentative countryside march. On “Garden Dream” — the fifth collection from the band since 2016 — Tough Old Bird doesn’t provide any surprises, but reminds listeners why its music was so endearing in the first place.

The Corrigans write contemplative songs dripping with sentimentality and tempered with Rust Belt fatigue. As ever, earnestness is the order of the day on “Garden Dream,” but the lush arrangements blending strains of mandolin and banjo with the more atmospheric tones of electric guitar and pedal steel help to avoid folk singer-songwriter clichés.

The 10-tune set opens with “Locks,” a terrific first impression pairing the sonic warmth of an acoustic guitar and organ with lyrics about mundane life that belie an emotional profundity: How are you doing? You don’t have to tell me / The attic is cold and the closets are empty / I just like the sound of your voice, say whatever you want.

“My Love (Satellites)” is an endearing ballad that explodes briefly into post-rock chaos before coming back down to earth with folk instrumentation. ”Summer of Spiderwebs” is another delicately spun winner, featuring a clever use of handclaps that transcends the twee indie music stereotype. “Remain” imagines what ’90s R.E.M. would sound like if it were a country band.

On “Garden Dream,” Tough Old Bird continues to produce pretty songs with interesting musical textures. And yet, the album is best listened to not as individual cuts in isolation, but as an uninterrupted haze of bucolic atmospheres.

Daniel J. Kushner is an arts writer at CITY. He can be reached at [email protected].