March 06, 2003

birddog 'songs from willipa bay'

Birddog is the vision of one man, Bill Santen. While I'm not sure what his reasoning is for using a band name. Like his previous album, Santen's enlisted a few music veterans to help him out, and instead of folkies like Edith Frost and Elliott Smith, he's assisted by Jason Loewenstein and Paul Oldham, who add a down-home feel to the proceedings. Indeed, these two help to make Songs From Willipa Bay feel like down-home Louisville.

The seven songs on Songs From Willipa Bay are faint, flickering flames dancing on the shores of dark, foggy souls, with Santen kindly allowing us to take a look inside. At times, such as on "Red Red Wine" (not the Neil Diamond number) and "Beaches", Birddog veer into Will Oldham country; hard to avoid when making this kind of bleak country-folk, harder even still when you have the brother of said influence playing in your band! About the only complaint that you can make about Birddog is that there are a lot of Oldhamites out there in Indie Rock Land, which makes cynical writers like me think "been there, done that," and if you're not particularly fond of the style, you'll simply go, "oh, great, another one."

You know what? Who cares about that?! I mean, really, it's hard to not like Songs From Willipa Bay. The music is mellow, pleasant, and intelligent; Santen's songwriting is excellent, but I suspect he's a lot more passionate when he's up onstage.

While Songs From Willipa Bay may be brief, it's certainly deep. For a mini-album, it certainly feels like a full-length. Though I don't know what his plans are, or who he will be working with next, I'm sure it will be excellent. If you're new to Birddog, Songs From Willipa Bay is certainly a fine place to start; though brief, it is still a strong, fine collection of an underrated talent.

--Joseph Kyle

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