The word ‘eclectic’ frequently springs to mind when listening to Project Blackbird. The adjective was used liberally to describe their 2018 debut album, ‘Endurance‘, and for good reason: the band’s music is formed from a melange of jazz, blues, folk, pop and trip-hop, blended with a magic that melds all these elements into a coherent whole that’s utterly beguiling. “Imagine a party at Ronnie Scott’s,” suggested one fan, “where Sade, Björk, Jeff Beck, and David Byrne meet Portishead and then go for a late night curry to exchange ideas”.
Project Blackbird’s distinctive sound reflects the diversity of its members’ musical roots: Ming Nagel (lyrics, vocals), Jon Read (multi-instrumental), Alan Roberts (guitar) and Jamie Varley (multi-instrumental) have all gained years of experience across a wide range of musical genres. Moreover, during the creation of ‘If This Is The End‘ the band have brought in no fewer than eleven guest contributors, including drummer Dave Tidmarsh, trombonist Russ Coleman and vocalist Lynval Golding.
Title track ‘If This Is The End‘ opens the album, with its underlying darkness balanced by the hope of new beginnings. The initially minimalistic instrumentals steadily grow, as layer upon layer of texture is added, ultimately forming a rich backdrop for Nagel’s silken vocals. This is followed by ‘Baby Giant‘, in which the sparsely cryptic lyrics play out like a surrealist version of word association, the underlying meaning of which become clearer once you know that the song was inspired by Leonora Carrington’s painting The Giantess (The Guardian of the Egg).
Some tracks draw upon current affairs: ‘Shake These Trees‘ references the Black Lives Matter movement, while the pandemic lockdown provides a subtext for ‘Letter No. 5‘. Project Blackbird showed how skilfully they could take on the subject of the Mental Health Act in the song ‘Nearest Relative‘ in their first album. They do so again here with ‘I Name My Mind and Throw it Treats, Hoping it Will Become Tractable’, a powerful commentary on the challenges and frustrations encountered by those facing a Mental Health Tribunal, delivered with suitably sassy defiance by Nagel.
Undertones of loss and remembrance feature strongly, such as in the poignant ‘Murmuration‘ and ‘The Handle of the Spade‘, both of which ache with sadness. But it’s not all bleak; in particular, Jon Read’s flugelhorn can light up the darkest of tracks, whether it’s his superb solo in ‘Murmuration‘ or his opening fanfare in ‘Laissons Cela Entre Nous‘, one of many album highlights.
‘If This Is The End‘ is a multilayered gem of tremendous complexity, but always coherent and never less than compelling. Project Blackbird have crafted an intelligent, thought-provoking album that will linger long in your memory.