Album review: The Ditchflowers, Bird's Eye

When The Ditchflowers quietly released their debut album, Carried Away, in 2007, I was blindsided, poleaxed. Ed Woltil, Brian Merrill and company's collection of thinking-person's, post-Beatles pop-rock was, and remains, the best album I've heard come out of the Tampa Bay scene in my three decades covering it.

Four years later comes the follow-up, Bird's Eye (Sunshine Drenchy). The element of surprise has been supplanted by expectation. Can't help it. The new one is every bit the worthy successor, but it doesn't achieve the kind of sublime transcendence that rendered the debut a part of my lifelong essentials collection. Really, how could it?

Woltil, who writes the lion's share of the material, is still a top-notch, intelligent tunesmith — as is Merrill. If anything, Bird's Eye displays a wider range of songcraft than the debut, although it comes up comparatively short in extraordinary moments. But make no mistake: Bird's Eye boasts its share of highlights. Start with the title track, which could be an outtake from Pet Sounds (right down to a hovering middle section with wordless harmony vocals). Melodically inventive, ethereal, full of wonder, "Bird’s Eye" feels like ... flight.

"If You Can Dream It" is a just-about-perfect slice of uplifting power-pop. "Simple Guy" stacks up nicely to Paul McCartney’s sentimental ditties. "I Feel Sorry" is an altogether charming piece of Mersey Beat pop, replete with grabby "middle 8" and Steve Connelly's twangy guitar solo. The sunny "Home" celebrates domesticity with such lighthearted warmth that it could make marriage-averse folks beeline to the jewelry store.

A half-decade ago, Woltil, by any measure a superior lyricist, used substantial parts of Carried Away to explore conflicted beliefs, wrestle with moral ambiguity and expurgate a few demons. This time around, he's not as soul-baring and as such his words don't lend themselves as much to deep absorption. Bird's Eye does, however, brim with clever turns of phrase ("They should put pictures of you in the Louvre") and imagery-rich pearls of wisdom: "Autumn bled outrageous red and gold / So bold, the hours we spent / As if they were ever ours to spend — we tend to forget they are lent."

In the end, the new Ditchflowers disc sounds worried over when compared to the debut, which seemed as if it burst forth miraculously. In "Simple Guy," Woltil sings "Maybe I'll take some time off and fly to Greece / To paint my masterpiece." Those lines are apropos here, because The Ditchflowers have already painted their masterpiece in Carried Away. It's only the rarest of musical artists who score more than one.

3 and 1/2 Stars

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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