Album: When the River Took Flight

Artist: Paper Bird

Label: Paper Bird

Hometown: Denver

Where to Find It:

Why We Like It: Paper Bird is old-timey. But don’t stop reading. It’s not what you think.

Yes, there is a banjo. And that fact alone may tempt you to cram them into the overcrowded bluegrass category—but resist. Paper Bird is so much more.

On this, their long-awaited, second full-length release, the seven-piece band delivers on a sound elusive to even the most astute musical zoologist.

At times, as during the playful and slightly corny “Colorado,” the group indulges in a bluegrass sound. But one wonders if the song is a knowing wink goodbye to the legions of Centennial State artists attempting, with varying degrees of success, to update and amalgamate the genre founded by Bill Monroe. Paper Bird leaves that pursuit in the dust and embraces a range of American sounds from the 1940s—without being nostalgic.

Central to the beauty of their music are the three-part harmonies. Sisters Genny Patterson and Esme Patterson-Collins, along with horn player and vocalist Sarah Anderson, produce a rare vocal splendor. While the music at times takes a backseat to the lilting siren song, it deserves no less attention. The banjo is ever present, but the horns form melodies reminiscent of Gershwin and pull them from the lawn into ragtime.

The song arrangements appear deceivingly simple, but they are not. Rather than become burdened by complexity, however, the listener is easily guided through an almost theatrical production of sound that evokes a rainbow of emotions. And that may be the thrust of this band: More than having something to say, they have something they want you to feel, and that is as much an era as an emotion.

When the River Took Flight will whisk away fans of Americana, but it’s surprising where you land.

Bonus: Paper Bird will perform during Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest in Fort Collins on Saturday, August 21 at 7 p.m. Read more about the event in this month’s Best Bets from the magazine.