I’ve been listening to the new album by The Ragbirds for a few weeks now, and it’s been growing on me. So I’m ready to report…

First: Listen to new songs by The Ragbirds here, on their MySpace page.


When Yes Nearby danced its way like a whirling dervish into stereos two years ago, The Ragbirds won themselves some enthusiastic new fans. Then, as if to prove that they could bring their shapeshifting style to the stage, the band released an energetic live recording: Catching Fire.

Now, with Wanderlove, The Ragbirds are back and their sound is as eclectic as ever. They haven’t lost any of their ambition, as this twelve-song release covers just as many subjects, and just as many styles, with zeal and skill.

What’s changed?

Well, vocalist and musical wunderkind Erin Zindle¬†and the multi-instrumentalist Randall Moore who backs her up are… Wasn’t it inevitable?… married. And there are some telling sentiments along the way: “How can I say what cannot be said? / You were once a dream in my head,” sings Zindle in the album’s catchiest, most delightful track. How can I say what I can hardly believe / There are no words so lovely.‚Äù

If true love has had any noticeable effect on Zindle, it’s taken her to a quieter place. On Yes Nearby, she had a riveting ebullience. Here, instead of pushing herself to new heights, she’s stepped back a bit into the subtler tones of Suzanne Vega. But her voice doesn’t have Vega’s haunting hush, so our attention shifts from her performance toward her lyrics, which are voluminous, meditative, and broken up with generous flourishes of la-la-las and singalong vocal punctuation.

Styles range all over the global map. Whether you like African, Celtic,or early-American folk music, you’ll end up dancing along. Right out of the gate, they entertain us with “Tarantella,” which is based on the legend of the ancient Italian spider dance, a jiggy number in which the jig itself becomes the antidote to the crippling poisons of human nature.

After that lament for our crippled, infected world, ‚”Good” is a “carpe diem” anthem: “Pull back the curtains/ let the daylight in,” Zindle exhorts us. “Dance in the breeze / Be like a child again.” In “Medicine,” which builds to a powerful crescendo, Zindle reminds us that God does not directly afflict us, but in his love he shares our sufferings. Love in the form of music becomes the salve to cure all ills.

“Brave New Beat” carries souvenirs of a journey to Argentina, and it‚Äôll get you dancing. Zindle sings about her relationship with the specter of Fear, and the dark spell he cast over her journeys. But it culminates with her liberation into a tango with new friends and a new self, dancing with new feet.

This may sound ponderous, and at times it is. But the songs of earnest spiritual reflection are interspersed with dreamy poetry. “Moon Miss Me,” penned and sung by guitarist Matthew Melody, is a whimsical, wistful love song about a celestial body with a divided mind. And “Ypsilanti Song,” which they performed first on Catching Fire, is a playful tribute to the band’s Michigan hometown even as recommends forgiveness in small-town grudges.

Zindle also explores the artistic impulse, its inspiration and its purposes. “I turn my worst sorrows into my best songs,” she sings in “Space.” And in “Harvest,” “May I always birth these visions and nurse them as a child / May I always tend the gardens where fevered hopes grow wild.” In dreams, she suggests, the dreamer catches visions of truth that can lead to liberation. In the finale, “Roar, Claw, and Bite,” a woman is set free from the consequences of her own imprisoning compromises, rising to heights she never knew possible.

East meets west in a playful fusion that remains the Ragbirds’ most distinct characteristic. Listeners will come away with their heads dizzy from the tour.

But you can sense that this music will flare up even brighter in live performances, when the band can take these riffs and run with them. As an album, it feels a bit verbose. The songs flap their wings in earnest, and give us a lot to think over, but they never quite take flight. Where last year’s Catching Fire caught fire, and Yes Nearby smoldered and sparked with spontaneous energy and explosive creativty, Wanderlove feels rather well-behaved. It’s as if everyone’s being a little too cooperative and modest, and so nothing breaks loose with the contagious energy that made their first two releases so arresting. “This is as good as life gets before you leave it,” sings Zindle, but their fans know better. These are the Ragbirds turned up to Medium-High, but not quite to High.

Still, Wanderlove is rich with worthwhile pleasures, another admirable collection from a band with a musical wanderlust that should lead them to a colorful future.