Album Review: Jade Bird – Different Kinds of Light

[Glassnote; 2021]

There’s a sort of Mandela effect at work when listening to Jade Bird: these expertly-crafted country-rock songs, weaving tales of love and heartbreak, must definitely be the work of a 30-something singer-songwriter from the US, on her fourth or fifth album at the peak of her career, you think to yourself. You are adamant that you heard some of these tracks on the radio during your holiday to Nashville several years ago, on some fuzzy station called something like Hot Country 200. The truth is far removed from this though: born in London, raised in Wales, and educated at the BRIT School of all places, Bird is a singer-songwriter with remarkable stylistic prowess. She’s also just aged 23 and her new second album Different Kinds of Light is as assured as sophomore records come.

Working with superstar country producer Dave Cobb (Jeff Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, John Prine) feels like a masterstroke. While this album is far rockier terrain than her self-titled debut, the pair wisely know when to strip things back on considered acoustic tracks. The title track, “Houdini”, and “Red White and Blue” are wistful ballads, plaintive pieces carried by Bird’s determined but solemn voice.

After the instrumental opener, the music drifting like an early morning slumber, most of the record rejoices in country-rock racket. The barnstorming “Open up the Heavens” and the following “Honeymoon” blow any cobwebs away, Bird’s growling vocals dominating. “Trick Mirror”, sounding similar to a Stevie Nicks track, features a resounding and spiralling guitar line. “Now is the Time” is the brightest track, optimistic and melodic. Bird even makes sure to close the album in rollicking fashion with the defiant “Headstart”.

Bird has said that the album is about falling in love and the chaos of trying to get away from your past, and these ideas dominate the sharp songwriting. The relationships she describes are often imbalanced, filled with inconsiderate or unworthy men. “I see you like I always have / But it’s a trick mirror,” she cleverly notes in “Trick Mirror”, capturing the lies we all tell ourselves when we want a relationship to work. “Oh, you started off thinking you were the top of your game… But by the end of the day, you were looking like a punchline,” she sings slyly in the punchy “Punchline”.

Bird isn’t content to just browbeat former lovers, however, and she turns her incisive songwriting inward; this is an album of self-analysis. “If you want somebody to judge… If you want somebody to hate… Really why would you wanna wait, I’m a great candidate,” she ruefully concedes in the self-aware “Candidate”. Penultimate track “Rely On” then sees her acknowledging that she has good qualities for a potential partner too.

With an evolving sound matching her distinctive vocals and strikingly strong songcraft, Bird feels mature beyond her years already. With tighter editing – Different Kinds of Light can feel plodding in its ambitious length – on her third album, Bird should only continue to improve.