The Rockingbirds don’t hail from Nashville or Austin but that hasn’t stopped these plucky north Londoners from being compared to alt-country greats. A career spanning two decades, their third album ( and their first in 17 years) sees these pedal steel guitar veterans returning to what made them so talked about in the first place: heartfelt, measured and mature songwriting. ‘The Return of the Rockingbirds’ feels reassuringly old fashioned, like good whiskey, time has been kind to them.
Narrative songwriting is always what this band excelled at and there are plenty on show here, ‘Stop The War’ with its catchy melody cleverly undercuts the tension running through this song of waring lovers, while the touching ‘You Can’t Win The Heart You Broke’ is story telling at its best. The pace of the 11 track album is neatly balanced between bar ready rock and heartfelt balladry, but does begin to drag towards to end and really there is only so much steel guitar twang one can take before it becomes monotonous and repetitive.
The albums’ flaws are obvious too, while the songwriting is consistently able, greatness is elusive, tracks such as ‘Now I Do’ aim for melancholy ache but achieve little more than a frustrated sigh as it fades into the background. There are moments when The Rockingbirds shake off this slumber as on the soulful opener ‘Till Something Better Comes Along’ restoring some much needed bite.
As the album comes to a close and after a gruelling wait, ‘The Return of the Rockingbirds’ will please, but as ever, the appeal of such an album will almost certainly be to a small and decidedly niche group of people. It shouldn’t necessarily be like this, but music is a fickle lover, and although they influenced contemporaries such as Uncle Tupelo and second wave giants such as Lucero and Ryan Adams’ Whiskeytown, The Rockingbirds’ are fated to play the toilet circuit (or what remains of it) in 2013. It is not what they deserve, but it’ll have to do.