Bird City – Winnowing (Label Fantastic/Coax)
If you’re a Guelph music fan, you know Jenny Mitchell. But you haven’t really known Mitchell at all until you hear this album, a crowning achievement for the musician after almost two decades on the scene, featuring many songs that were given years to mature before committing to tape. Mitchell has been a pillar of Guelph’s music scene since the early 2000s: as a musician, as a promoter (at the late Family Thrift Store), as a label owner (Label Fantastic), as a community radio DJ, a karaoke host and as the driver of “the Golden Bus,” a school bus that doubles as a mobile music venue, a spot for film screenings, and as a travel agency shepherding music fans to Sappyfest in Sackville, N.B. Though she’s recorded as Jenny Omnichord and a member of the then-teenage Barmitzvah Brothers, Winnowing is her debut as Bird City, her most musically traditional solo project.
Three years in the making and made with local hero Scott Merritt (whose 2015 album Of was a quiet masterpiece), it features many of the city’s finest, including drummers Nathan Lawr and Steph Yates, lap steel guitarist Rich Burnett, bassist Scott Haynes, former Barmitzvah Brother Tristan O’Malley, and the Constantines’ Bry Webb, whose hushed harmonies blend perfectly with Mitchell’s understated vocals. Merritt keeps the arrangements sparse and lovely, the focus set on Mitchell’s storytelling and her delicate accompaniment on banjo and tenor guitar.
Much of Mitchell’s earlier work, dating back to the band she formed when she was 16, could have been dismissed as “quirky,” both in her choice of subject matter and instrumentation. But Bird City is decidedly mature and melancholy, the work of an arts activist, entrepreneur and mother of two who still lives in the town that nurtured her creativity and spirit, a work made with a musical veteran who also happens to be the father of her first drummer. It’s a record where the many threads of Mitchell’s life come full circle, a deeply personal record rooted in the local that manages to transcend all of that and resonate on a larger level. Winnowing is a tiny triumph that opens up the second chapter of her rich and rewarding artistic pursuit. (Jan. 5, 2018)
Stream: “Hours,” “A Band End,” “Salvage Diver”