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The best kept secret in music


"Music/Live Indie:Rarebirds"

Newly renamed after about a year as the Carolynne McNeel Three, Rarebirds rose from the ashes of McNeel's previous outfit, the softly shoegazing April Disaster. Backed by guys who cut their teeth in Philly bands like Raccoon, the Secession Movement and This Radiant Boy, McNeel sounds steadier and more seductive than ever on Rarebirds' debut Flight Patterns EP. Guests show up to play trumpet, singing saw and glockenspiel, all of which combine with multi-instrumentalist Rory Connell's sneaky versatility to elevate the smoky, twinkling tunes well above standard singer/songwriter fare. Fans of Tsunami and the Spinanes would be wise to take note.
- Philadelphia Weekly, Doug Wallen

"After the Disaster"


In her old band, Carolynne McNeel had somewhere to hide. Her middle-range vocals and sad, searching lyrics had to swim against April Disaster's current of serene rock 'n' roll and stringy orchestral arrangements. It was a comfortable place for a rookie singer-songwriter.

But these days, with Rarebirds, she's the proverbial frontwoman. She's strumming that sparkly red Les Paul, writing all her own songs and singing like she owns the place.

"In the early days of April Disaster, I would get onstage and actually shake because I was so nervous sometimes," recalls McNeel. "Now it feels a little more natural, or else I'm a lot better at zoning out when I play and keeping my inferiority complex to myself."

Once and future reunion gigs notwithstanding, the Disaster dispersed peacefully in 2003, its members gently torn apart by grad school, marriage and other bands. McNeel, who sprang from the pumpkin patches of rural Greensburg, Pa. (near Pittsburgh), still wanted to make music in Philadelphia. She began writing thoughtful, almost folky songs and taking the stage as a solo artist.

Along the way, she started collecting musicians to stitch layers to her sparse, unpoppy rock songs. Rory Connell, formerly of Raccoon and currently of Rifle Nice, provided accompaniment on mandolin, a plucky complement to McNeel's sometimes somber melodies. A few months later, drummer Dave Dworanczyk, ex-Secession Movement, came on board. For want of a more bandlike name, they performed as the Carolynne McNeel Three, even when a series of stand-in bassists made it a misnomer.

"I felt a little self-conscious just using my name because it seemed like a real ego trip," McNeel admits. "But we couldn't seem to come up with a name that we all felt fit the sound and mood of the band. When it came down to putting out an EP, we just thought it was now or never."

So, with Adam Herndon of This Radiant Boy permanently on bass duties, the four came up with Rarebirds, an appropriate moniker for a band with ethereal, folky aspirations. Flight Patterns, their self-released debut EP, recorded at local producer Bill Moriarty's studio in his Second Street apartment, comes out this week.

At the time of this interview, the band is scrambling to get the EP ready for the big debut. The CDs are being pressed and McNeel's putting together handmade, silk-screened covers. The singer, who studied fashion design at Drexel and once won an award for her costume-esque lingerie line ("everyone's favorite was the "bedroom chaps.' I can't imagine not keeping a slight sense of humor about everything I do"), is also working on T-shirts and buttons. The band grabbed www.rarebirdsmusic.com and hopes to at least get a "coming soon" message up shortly..

"I wouldn't really classify us as a "rock' band," says McNeel. "When we rock out, it's more in a Galaxie 500 or softer Yo La Tengo sort of way."

McNeel doesn't resort to a lot of studio tricks or flashy rock star moves, but if she has a signature guitar style — one that's followed her from April Disaster to Rarebirds — it's the chimey alternating of thick and thin strings heard on "Love Letters In Morse Code." The clean channel groove of low and high notes instills a textured depth into even the sparest music. (This is one of those bands that knows how to play quietly.) Still, Flight Patterns, suavely fleshed out by trumpet, singing saw and glockenspiel, is hardly an exercise in understatement.

At the center of it is McNeel's warm, ghostly voice. She doesn't allow herself an embellished roar, but when the music swells, she does rise above. And that's when you realize her lyrics are as abstract and complex as her arrangements, as on "Chinese Stars": "You have a habit of showing up, just as I'm losing faith. / I have a habit of losing interest, when you don't keep your distance."

There's an air of confidence and comfort around all that introspection. "I think one of my biggest fears as a songwriter is sounding corny and cliche," she says. "And I have the other guys around to keep me in check with that."

Rarebirds, Fri., Feb. 18, 10 p.m., $7 , with Rainy River, Sea Snakes and The Winter Pageant, Silk City, Fifth and Spring Garden sts., 215-592-8838. - Philadelphia City Paper, Patric Rapa


Flight Patterns (EP 2005)
airplay on:
91.7 WKDU Drexel
103.3 WPRB Princeton


Feeling a bit camera shy


Someone is speaking to you in a foreign language that you've never heard before, and yet you are understanding every word of it. The speaker is mysterious and exotic, yet vaguely familiar with a friendly smile. You try and return the dialogue in what you imagine a crocheted web of verbal genius, but upon translation you realize you're merely conjugating verbs....

Carolynne McNeel never intended to be a front woman. Never intended to grow her musical experiences past the 15 years of violin lessons she started at the age of 3. Modest and unassuming Rarebirds started out as the solo acoustic act she began in 2003 following the dissipation of her previous suit, April Disaster.

Drawing comparisons to early '90s indie/pop rock such as the Spinanes, REM, and Heavenly, the music is soft and shoegazy at times, yet straightforward and minimalist in form. Rarebirds has an ever-evolving melodically-driven sound, but never strays completely from the honest folk-inspired singer/songwriter fare with just a touch of soul.

With one self-released ep (Flight Patterns, 2005) under their belt, and another recording on the way, if Rarebirds doesn't take Philadelphia PA (and beyond!) by storm, you just might find them trying to cuddle up next to you and win your heart.