music / Columns

Jam Central Station: The Ragbirds – 1.27.17 – The Beachland Tavern – Cleveland, OH

February 11, 2017 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski

One of the benefits of following local and regional music is the opportunity to see your favorite bands on a regular basis. Ever since discovering The Ragbirds in early 2011 I’ve been lucky to catch them at least twice a year as the Michigan band swings through Ohio or hits festivals in the area. I’ve watched as every time they put on an exciting, energetic show that evolves over time. A mark of a great live band is the ability to see that band over and over again and never have it get old. The Ragbirds are a band that never gets old for me, and they showed that once again with their show in Cleveland.

The band is touring in support of their latest release The Threshold and The Hearth. The album is held together with a story of love, marriage, and family that mirrors frontwoman Erin Zindle and percussionist Randall Moore’s own relationship. While the songs come from a very personal space (as does most of Zindle’s songs) the band is able to open up those songs to the entire audience while on stage. The band opened the set with their version of the Italian folk dance “Tarantella” before hitting 4 songs in a row off of the new album. “Sometimes Honestly” and “Cosmos” both provided an infectious beat for the crowd to dance to, and the audience responded. This was a good thing, since the band has begun drawing in an older folk-friendly crowd along with the younger fans who are more looking to get up and dance. By the end of the first few songs the two crowds had mingling together. It was also clear early on that this would be a hot night from the stage, particularly from Erin Zindle whose fingers were floating on her violin with an obvious grace. “Lemon Grove,” the lead track from the new album, followed. Despite just being released the song has been around for a few years, and the song has gone through a nice evolution live.

After “Little Ties” the band moved into an older song, the almost foreboding “Book Of Matches” which was a nice change of pace from the newer material. The Ragbirds have often cultivated a world music flair in their, and this is another example of it. They moved back to new material with two more songs from the new album as well as a song of guitarist TJ Zindle’s recent solo album. Erin Zindle often gets the most attention from the band as the primary songwriter, but her brother TJ deserves tremendous credit in helping to shape the band’s sound as well as for his ability to absolutely shred his guitar when the song warrants it. “Alleyway Saints,” a song he co-wrote on the new album, is one of the most impressive songs from the band, and TJ stepped out to lead the band through the excellent solo.

This was the point of the set where the band really started to switch things up and get very playful. A fun cover of “Stuck In The Middle With You” was followed by their interpretation of the West African dance “Maribayassa.” The lovely romantic “Bottomless Heart” kept the crowd going. Erin Zindle’s vocal range was on full display as well for “Bottomless Heart,” and she was singing clearly from the heart. The band continued with a flurry of older songs, starting with the almost meditative and family-centered “Tomorrow River.” They followed this up with a pair of personal favorites of mine with “Good” and “Get In.” “Good” is an exceptionally well-written song with excellent lyrics, a great groove, and many opportunities for percussionist Randall Moore to show his chops. “Get In” featured the best jam of the night, with everyone building the music up near the end. Any band that spends as much time on the road as The Ragbirds is bound to be tight on stage, and this band has the benefit of family as well. That togetherness showed up throughout the set, and particularly on this big jam.

While the band was moving into the final stretch of the set, they certainly didn’t slow things down. TJ took the microphone again to lead the band through a solid cover of “(What’s So Crazy ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” The band then went into their version of a tango with “Brave New Beat,” and Erin laid down a solo in the song that was one of the most engaging that I’ve heard from her, filling the gap between the first and second halves of the song impressively. They kept that mood with “Breakdown,” the song from the newest album with clearest world music influences that have been carried over from previous albums. They closed the show “Onyama Kokroko,” another song based on a West African rhythm that had the entire band showing off their percussion chops.

Despite the fact that I’ve seen The Ragbirds a good dozen times or more, they always bring something new and exciting to the show. Sometimes it’s a new cover song, sometimes it’s a new way to look at an old song, and sometimes it’s just new stories and a new energy. This show had plenty of surprises and excitement, from the new feel of older songs like “Tarentalla” and “Brave New Beat” to Erin’s exceptional work on her violin. There are bands that I continue to see over and over again because I continue to be shaped and inspired by their music, and I always walk out of a show from The Ragbirds feeling renewed and refreshed. I’m already looking forward to my next chance to see them live.

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Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!