The aqua paint-galaxies on the cover of Icebird’s The Abandoned Lullaby encompass a cavalcade of cartoon zoo animals on a search-and-find; they’re a Noah’s Ark-like assembly adrift what appears to be a cut-and-paste sea of patterned fabric swatches. The image could be part of a Nick, Jr. promo or a grown-up’s paint-by-numbers reintroduction gone hobby and real creative; could be, but ain’t. Instead it’s the visual representation of the audio inside: a collage of styles not unlike the musicians who’ve created it. The Abandoned Lullaby is rjd2 and Aaron Livingston doing blues soul that riffs on psychedelic rock, casually brought up to 2011 like some point-o software update on the genres of way back when.
Updated doesn’t always mean better, but it does almost always signify that something about the original version is different or slightly tweaked. Much of Lullaby feels like an (unconscious?) attempt at the eclecticism and free-form structure of compositions made by a Rotary Connection or Weather Report. Rjd2 and Livingston get at some of that, and what they each bring to the table coalesces well. It ought to be that way though, right? Both guys are based in Philly; Livingston is apart of The Mean, a blues-rock combo that’s been knocking around the Philly tri-state area for quite awhile; and rjd2, aka Ramble John Krohn, has as many names as he does projects, all of which began with the coveted breakbeat wonderment that’s Def Jux-era treats Deadringer and Since We Last Spoke.
It’d be easy for folks to assume that rjd2’s long resume and forays into other musik (2007’s The Third Hand, which was harshly derided for it’s acoustic soundscape and rj’s choice to sing on the record) might occasion some resting on his laurels (or Mad Men theme-song money), but the whimsical instrumentals he’s crafted prove that area-code and musical chops aren’t the only thing connecting him to his collaborator. Livingston’s singing, especially on tracks like the rollicking first single “Going and Going. And Going.” and the dreamy “I’m Green” is emphatic and genuinely cause for curiosity. His voice is often completely wrapped up in emotion in a way that recalls The Ohio Players’ Junie Morrison on a tune like “Ecstasy” and has the slippery cadence at the end of notes that someone like the soul-royal Marlena Shaw perfected. The curiosity manifests in questions like “How did dude’s voice get to brim with so much experience and mild heartbreak?” and “How did he make it do that?”
The album transitions from the primary keys of the opener “Charmed Life” to the grubby slow-stepper that is “Wander,” to the stirring “Gun for Hire” with ease, although by the midway point in the set, the bombast of the first half wanes. Some of the songs, like the aforementioned “Going” and “Green” feature change-ups that come all of a sudden and somewhat echo the mellow spontaneity of Wings’ “Bluebird” and other McCartney stuff like “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” on which the former Beatle buoyantly chants: “Hands across the water/hands across the sky…” Is that where the ark on the cover is heading, towards that kind of water? The movement in these songs is a microcosm, I think, of the statement Icebird makes with Lullaby.
Perhaps the picture on the album cover is more symbolic than what was initially assumed. Maybe the animated figures are lighthearted stand-ins for Livingston and rjd2, travelers seeking out some refuge after the storm of less than inspired music that has and continues to descend upon all of our ears. Although Lullaby is not the storm, the album is not surprising enough to be truly unique. One never gets the sense that they’re really letting go of the reins like they could. Still, it’s fun. It does feel like the melding Icebird does of electronic elements with blues, soul, and rock is a progressive move. One might not know what the abandoned lullaby is after a few spins, but they’re probably not mad that these guys are the ones looking for it, or striving to create it.