When the Small Birds Sweetly Sing
2008 marks the 20th anniversary for the musical collaboration between Susie Burke and David Surette, so it seems fitting that it should also bring the release of a new duo recording. A finely-crafted collection of contemporary and traditional folk and acoustic music, When the Small Birds Sweetly Sing marks a major step forward for this duo, and confirms their reputation as one of New England's top folk acts. "I met my wife in a bar," jokes Surette, yet the comment belies the importance of the NH Seacoast's fertile 80's folk scene to the beginnings of their duo. Bar gigs, hoot nights at the Press Room and Stone Church (among others), and music parties all made for many opportunities for making music together, and Susie and David started casually playing together. "David showed up at a few of my gigs with a mandolin and sat in," says Burke. "It was pretty clear early on that it was going to work. There was an ease about playing together, a clear feeling that we were simpatico. "Early on it's a feeling, and, as in all things in life, those first feelings don't always pan out. But we both got better as musicians, and learned more. It helped that we both had been involved with other collaborations. I think it maker it easier to find space in your playing and performing for someone else, rather than if you always work alone." Since then, Susie and David have continued to work together as a duo, as well as collaborating with a wide range of musicians from New England and beyond. A list of their musical compatriots reads like a who's who of the New England folk scene: Harvey Reid, Joyce Andersen, Cosy Sheridan, Kent Allyn, Rodney Miller and Airdance, Sarah Bauhan, Pete Sutherland, Brooks Williams, Skip Gorman, Steve Schuch, Jeremiah McLane, Nightingale, and many others. Between their solo and duo releases, they have produced 8 CDs, including this new one. Recorded with superb quality by Chris Magruder at Thundering Sky Studio in South Berwick, ME, When the Small Birds Sweetly Sing maintains a very rootsy, live, and organic feel. Susie's beautiful and versatile voice and David's graceful, nimble-fingered string playing combine with extraordinary results, on a collection of 11 songs and one instrumental. Musical support comes from three long-time collaborators, who also happen to be some of New England's finest: Kent Allyn on bass, piano, harmony vocals, Joyce Andersen on fiddle, and Jeremiah McLane on accordion. A number of songs are drawn from the cream of the crop of today's songwriters, including songs from Pierce Pettis, David Roth, Mark Simos, and the debut of an as-yet unrecorded gem from Pete Sutherland. Susie also shines on an intimate solo arrangement of "I'm Not That Girl", from the Broadway musical Wicked. A major departure is their arrangement of Jean Ritchie's "Now is the Cool of the Day", where Susie's haunting vocal is featured in a swirl of cittern, fretless bass, and electric guitar. "We worked on this CD over a period of several years, in several bursts of activity, sometimes followed by periods of waiting," says Surette. "We might have liked to release it sooner, but it took a while for all the pieces of the album to fall into place together. It's not really a single-concept or thematic album, but the theme of love is a strong current that runs through it." "It's love expressed in a variety of ways, as well," says Burke. "There's romantic love, in it's various ups and downs, as well as love of a parent and child, and a great Pierce Pettis song of love and friendship (I Will Be Here).' Their traditional repertoire is also featured more prominently than in past releases, with English and French-Canadian ballads, a medley of Irish tunes, and a traditionally-flavored song from Chris Leslie of Fairport Convention. "We have gradually incorporated a bit more traditional material into our duo presentation," says Surette. "The songs here seem to sit well alongside our more contemporary repertoire, too. A lot of the folk world seems divided between singer/songwriters and tradsters, and ne'er the twain shall meet. We're aiming at a spot with a bit more common ground." "In this era of 'buy local', a very worthy concept, by the way, we are fortunate to be able to 'work local'; this area is so rich in talented people," says Burke. "It was a very satisfying process to record here in South Berwick in Chris's great studio with our musical and personal pals. And local designer Dawn Boyer - who's a great singer, by the way - did the artwork for the package." When the Small Birds Sweetly Sing is a recording that will appeal to fans of both contemporary and traditional folk. By refusing to be pigeonholed, Susie and David have created a collection of music that combines the best aspects of both worlds, and presents the music with a style and warmth that is easily recognizable to fans of their live shows.