The music of Philadelphia’s Emily 'Birdie' Busch is natural. There is no pretense, nothing forced or processed - just delicate, beautiful melodies and deceptively simple lyrics that resonate deeply upon further discovery. Inspired by writers like Paul Simon, Gillian Welch and Neil Young, there is a distinct jubilance to her writing that is informed with a sweet sorrow, creating a musical balance that is at once comfortable, familiar and still unique.
Penny Arcade builds on the promise of The Ways We Try. Birdie has had some more time to let her songs simmer and pull together a sweet line-up of Philly musicians to be the band for Penny Arcade. Again working with producer and musician Devin Greenwood (Norah Jones, Amos Lee) the two decided to record the bulk of the album in South Philly in a room in Devin’s house dubbed “The Honey Jar” and then moved to Scullville Studios, NJ, once again creating another home spun sonic statement.
Restored inspiration for the home locale came about on a spring trip to the Stax Museum in Memphis TN, where the importance of the close knit musical community was stressed, resulting in collaboration that can conjure up real magic.
Along with Birdie and Devin, multi-instrumentalists Todd Erk and Ross Bellenoit worked on Penny Arcade with everyone switching up and playing different instruments experimenting to find the best core groove for the song. “I loved witnessing the quality of music that comes about when people are thrown together because they are neighbors and friends, believers and musicians, all able to have this dialogue that somehow seems more intimate. There’s a certain feeling that is transmitted in making use of all that. I’m conscious of wanting to make meaningful work with the people I’ve come to know meaningfully. Here in Philly you come to realize that you have an incredible amount of resources and inspiration.”
One of the standout songs is “The Huff Singers (North Philly)”, about a gospel singing group Birdie met while waitressing at a gospel brunch. “Mr. Huff, who is in his eighty’s, carries a Polaroid camera around and he asked me if he could take my picture and then he gave me the copy. I love to visit the group in their rehearsal space and listen to them swap old time songs and recordings; we have made an effort to bridge the gap between cultures, and it’s a real pleasure for me.”
With great radio support from WXPN in Philadelphia, as well as AAA stations including WFUV, WCBE, WUMB, KXCI, KBCS, XM and Acoustic Café, NPR, the songs are finding homes across the country. WYCE in Grand Rapids acknowledged her as their Emerging Artist for 2006 in their listener poll, Starbucks featured “Gigi” in all their stores for a month, and CBS-TV’s Joan of Arcadia licensed “Secret Hour” for the final episode of the series.
With critical praise from the Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, New York’s Village Voice and Time Out New York, HARP, American Songwriter, and 6abcTV, as well as online reaction from influential blogs like Songs: Illinois and All Songs Considered, the first album allowed her to appear at CMJ, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, venues including World Café Live, the TLA, Bowery Ballroom, Passim, the Iron Horse, the Bluebird, and tour dates with a diverse combination of artists including Mason Jennings, The Slip, Brandi Carlile, the db’s, the Wood Brothers and Regina Spektor.
If the first album was like peaking into a quieter world of journal meanderings and short vignettes, consider Penny Arcade a musical manifesto, with declarations covering forgiveness, mercy, mysticism, and beyond. Expect some pop culture references in songs like “Go Go Gadget Heart” and her interpretation of the Steve Miller Band gem, “Wild Mountain Honey”. What we have on Penny Arcade are shiftier tempos, evolving sounds, a verve for songwriting and a voice that perfectly characterizes the songs. Melodies infuse and refuse to leave the brain, and words seem to resonate even more in songs like “Clemency”, which captures the essence of her writing style and general outlook on life.
Birdie Busch weaves wonderfully upbeat arrangements with a whimsy and looseness only found in much more experienced writers. Penny Arcade delivers on the promises identified in her first recordings, and will again find an audience of fans who appreciate her fascinating style, resolute honesty and refreshing sense of melody and lyric.
The Ways We Try
Born in Philadelphia amidst a great wealth of talent, The Ways We Try has captured the essence of Birdie Busch and the players who so generously gave of their time and skills to bring these joyous songs to life. Produced by Devin Greenwood (Amos Lee, the Weeds, JF Maher) and recorded at Scullville Studios (Dixie Hummingbirds, Larry Campbell, Soozie Tyrell), the album represents Birdie's first full-length release.
Encouraged by Treasure Records President Jerry Klause and engineered by Rachel Russell and Devin Greenwood, the recording has all the warmth, atmosphere and feeling of the best of the classic records in your collection. The Ways We Try was created between June and January of 2005, in somewhat the opposite way of how songs are usually recorded. For this album, the instruments follow the voice; two guitars lead the rhythm, with bass and drums chasing off-kilter meters, while pianos and organs color the quirky lyrics and add depth and breadth to the melodies.
A.D. Amorosi in the Philadelphia City Paper described the record as "Not dag funky [but] odd funky... produced for maximal Dylan/Kooper effect [those wheezy organs] the swelling structure never overwhelms... her crackled rosiness draws you into [the songs] as would a painter's smallest strokes – asides that speak volumes when you stand closer. So get closer."
At twenty-five, Birdie is only a few years into her songwriting and playing experience. Absorbing influences from everywhere - including her grandmother’s outsider music collection - she has expressed both the quiet pain and the joy of private relationships with an awareness that feels like she’s been here before. Busch also infuses wonderfully upbeat arrangements with a whimsy and looseness only found in much more experienced writers.
Her observations include the secret hour when the flowers bloom, the redemptive power of walking and talking together, what happens when PGW turns off the gas in South Philly, her deep family ties, and the universal daily struggle: "I'm losing myself / finding myself / I'm getting dirty / coming clean."
Birdie's first EP drew raves from Philadelphia Inquirer and Rolling Stone writer Tom Moon who enthusiastically noted, "At times, Busch sounds nearly apologetic, as if she's just trying lines out. But she's sneaky. Just when the lyrics seem ordinary comes an image of disarming clarity... she describes a moment of sitting on a bed: 'you were playing guitar / and I swear / that's closer than being lovers'."
With radio play from WXPN, and the song "South Philly" just included on the station's WXPN Philly Local - Right On Track album produced by station programming veteran Helen Leicht, the media support is taking Birdie and her band into many of the best and most venerable clubs and halls in the Philadelphia area, including the Tin Angel, the Point, Theatre of the Living Arts, the Fire and World Café Live.
She has shared stages in the past year with a diverse group of artists including Dar Williams, Kaki King and the Mosquitos, as well as area favorites Townhall, Amos Lee, Cowmuddy and Mutlu.
Nationally, her song "Secret Hour" was featured in the TV series Joan of Arcadia on CBS.
Her natural writing style, openly public emotions and rich family influences are the character of The Ways We Try - as is the unspoken invitation to share these experiences with Birdie.