Album Reviews: The Bird and the Bee by The Bird and the BeeTwo years ago, a Los Angeles singer-songwriter named Inara George burst onto the scene with a remarkably polished debut album called All Rise. The daughter of Little Feat frontman Lowell George, Inara was blessed with an effortlessly pretty voice and a Suzanne Vega-like knack for imbuing simple folk-pop with loads of atmosphere and minor-key foreboding. All Rise owed maybe a little too much to forebears like Vega, but it was one of the 2005's more promising debuts.
Rather that immediately record a followup, George decided to work on a new project with one of her players from the All Rise sessions -- multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin, best-known as a longtime Beck sideman. It was a smart move. Calling themselves the bird and the bee, George and Kurstin make music that is simple, catchy and unabashedly retro. It's as if Burt Bacharach and Hal David had spent a few months hanging out in L.A.'s jaded hipster bars, then went home and wrote a record about it.
Kurstin and George announce their retro-pop agenda right from the start, with the handclaps and fuzz bass of "Again & Again" leading the way. Ballads like "Birds and the Bees" and "I'm a Broken Heart" keep the vintage Bacharach vibe alive, while more uptempo numbers like "F*cking Boyfriend" give George a chance to brandish the same sardonic wit that made "Fools in Love" one of All Rise's highlights. The combination of sunshine pop, gorgeous vocals and sass-mouthed cynicism ("Say my name, say my name, say my stupid name," George commands on "Again & Again") is hard to resist.
For all its deliberate evocation of '60s and '70s AM pop, the bird and the bee has more than a few shrewdly modern touches. On "Because," Kurstin cribs his backbeat from minimalist hip-hop producers like The Neptunes; on "Preparedness," he evokes the jittery beats of Postal Service. Never, however, does Kurstin let the production overwhelm George's vocals (which are often multi-tracked), keeping her and the duo's sweet melodies front and center.
Like their Canadian counterpart Leslie Feist, Inara George and Greg Kurstin find fresh inspiration in the sounds of classic pop songwriters, and deliver an album that's miles ahead of what passes for pop in the James Blunt era. - Andy Hermann
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