The Ragbirds are a Michigan-based quintet that fuses multiple musical styles (Americana, Folk, African, and Celtic amongst others) to create a sophisticated harmonic palate. Featuring Erin Zindle as lead songwriter, vocalist, and violinist, she is joined by TJ Zindle on guitar, Randall Moore on percussion, Dan Hildebrandt on bass, and Tim Dziekan on congas. Their most recent studio release, "Finally Almost Ready," opens with the lilting beauty of "Book of Matches," where Zindle's wistful description of a phoenix mingles with strings, exuding an exotic sound reminiscent of European gypsies. Tim Carbone (of Railroad Earth, who produced this album) contributes spirited violin to the latter stages of the song as it jaunts to its conclusion. "The Frame" is a sparse, elegant number that spotlights Zindle's vocals and poignant lyrics. There is a polished quality to this song that seems reminiscent of the best Natalie Merchant from my bygone days in college. "Get In" changes gears, incorporating Caribbean influences and a relaxed island groove in describing how love arrives "like an earthquake and comes like a brand new day." T.J. Zindle closes the song with an enthusiastic flourish on guitar. "Getting Dark" describes the inglorious yet romantic life of the undiscovered musician, who toils hard in threadbare clothing only to get "nothing on your plate." The title track incorporates accordion and Zindle's trademark wistful lyrics to create a refined, yearning track. In this song, a woman wants to make plans but is conflicted by the teaching of her youth and upbringing, becoming paralyzed by the conflict. The lyrics urge forward motion, albeit with tinges of doubt, telling her "you're Almost ready to go."
"The Limits of Me" is an inspirational number that encourages (metaphorically, of course) the burning of old houses for the sake of living in bigger ones. Within the lyrics of this song, the houses that one might burn are "self-imposed" limitations that we all live within. "Little Things" incorporates carefree lyrics and spirited guitar in describing the trials and tribulations of the artist in general, and the songwriter in particular. Zindle writes about a "cupboard full of recipes" she has never tried but has come to appreciate in her pursuit for a greater understanding of love and life. "Anywhere" is another light-hearted optimistic number, and this quality seems to be prominent throughout Zindle's songwriting for this album. The song encourages one to follow the yearnings of the heart, as you can go "anywhere from here," and is punctuated by nice conga work from Tim Dziekan. "Panoramic Camera" is another plaintive song that encourages the fostering of a "broad, wholesome, charitable view that travelers know." As with so many songs on this album, this track is characterized by a belief in one's own ability to change the world, if they operate truly and with conviction. The traditional "Onyame Kokroko" closes the album with a wonderful flourish as enthusiastic congas complement Zindle's vocal delivery nicely.
In listening to the tracks of the Ragbirds' "Finally Almost Ready," I am most impressed by Zindle's crystalline, yearning voice and the myriad musical styles her band mates use to complement her. There is an idealistic spirit present in the lyrics to these songs that is personified by a belief in the power of the individual. Zindle uses interesting analogies and metaphors in her lyrics, and these insights fit nicely with the tone and themes of her songs. These tracks are infused with what seems like a "New Age" spirit and a sense of determination and self-worth. The selections on the album incorporate different musical styles (from gypsy to klezmer to modern folk) and benefit from excellent production from Tim Carbone and staff, which results in a warm, honest-feeling album. "Finally Almost Ready" is characterized by intricate, well-penned lyrics and will be quite a discovery to the "modern folk" lover.
- J. Evan Wade