Artist: Rusty Willoughby
Produced by: Sparkle & Shine Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Have you ever heard of Rusty Willoughby? I hadn’t either when I was offered the opportunity to review his latest album, Cobirds Unite. Apparently Rusty Willoughby has been performing since 1982, working with rock/pop bands like Pure Joy, Flop and Llama. Shunning the latest electric stylings of present musicians, rusty Willoughby prefers a more subtle and old school approach to music with less synthetic sound and more classic tones.
His latest album features Rusty Willoughby on vocals, guitar, organ and piano; Rachel Flotard on vocals; Scott Sutherland on vocals and the dobro; Johnny Sangster on guitar, piano, organ and percussion; Margrethe Bjorklund on the pedal steel guitar; Lisa King on the banjo; Tilman Herb on the violin; Barb Antonio on the cello and Barrett Martin on the vibraphone, drums and percussion. With all those musicians and all the different types of instruments used to create this album, I simply couldn’t wait to take a listen.
Rusty Willoughby’s sound seems to have a number of influences dating back to classic ‘60s music. His vocals often remind me of the peace and love music of the era. His voice is reminiscent of George Harrison without the Beatles and The Archies, in fact, I’ll bet this guy could do a slamming version of Sugar Sugar. The vocals of Rusty Willoughby and his fellow singers offers up some very soothing harmonies.
The music of the band is unique and I love the fact that the music is not enhanced by synthesizers or over the top samplings and mixings. This is pure music, the way it was meant to be - less focus on over the top beats and sounds and more focus on the music itself and the lyrics. Each of the songs found on Cobirds Unite tells a story, mostly of hard knocks. Thus, the album does serve up some melancholy feelings thanks to the subject matter, yet that sense of sadness only serves to enhance the quality of the music and the vocal harmonies.
When I review albums, I often listen to them more than once to get a full feel for the music, vocals and the lyrics. Upon listening to Cobirds Unite a second time, I found I had already learned some of the lyrics and was able to sing along. Although I enjoyed every song on the album, especially the songs of failed attempts to find oneself such as Crown of Thorns and Find a Way Home, my favorite is Rusty Willoughby’s remake of the classic country song called Streets of Baltimore. This song tells the hard luck story of a man who uproots everything for the woman he loves, moving to Baltimore because she truly loves the city. Things start off alright, but he soon finds he has to work harder and harder to stay in Baltimore. The song ends with the physically exhausted man realizing that the woman he is in love with loves the streets of Baltimore more than she loves him, so he heads back to Tennessee on the same train he rode on to Baltimore, heartbroken. Such a poignant song, performed with such intensity that one couldn’t help but know exactly how this man feels.
This union of musicians led by Rusty Willoughby is extraordinary. Pure and unmolested music with soothing undertones and an acoustic feel, beautifully harmonic vocals and intelligently thought out lyrics combine to create Cobirds Unite. One could only hope that this group of musicians decide to work together more often. I had never heard of Rusty Willoughby before, now I can’t wait to hear from him again.