Mountain folk duo have small carbon footprint, enormous ambitions
When they’re not touring or recording as Bowerbirds, Phil Moore and Beth Tacular live in an Airstream trailer parked deep in the North Carolina wilderness, where they live off the land and write songs about the landscape around them. Their debut, Hymns for a Dark Horse, was a back-to-nature manifesto of sorts, and Upper Air begins in the same vein. On the spare, folksy opener “House of Diamonds,” Moore equates their forest life with a certain kind of freedom: “You are free from the greed of your culture, you are free from the lust for the luster,” he sings, not angrily but wistfully, as if removing oneself from society is a noble but impossible mission. But this is a much more personal album than its predecessor, full of subtly erotic love songs to each other and bittersweet odes to dead friends. The duo harmonize beautifully on “Teeth” and “Northern Lights,” and multi-instrumentalist Tacular and third ‘bird Mark Paulson add unexpected flourishes of dulcimer, autoharp, and accordion that tease out the contentment and tension in Moore’s songwriting. Upper Air may tout the simple life, but the complexity of these tunes make the album a trove of musical treasures.