by James M. Manheim
"Buddy and Julie Miller, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, Steve Earle, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, and lots more!" reads the favorites list of vocalist Rachel Lynn of the Hummingbirds, sent to me in an e-mail. Lynn and Stephen Grant Wood, who make up this Ypsilanti duo, draw on both the classic country music and the country-themed rock currently known as Americana, and they're creating a simple, unusually close fusion of the two. Among nationally known Americana musicians, Buddy and Julie Miller come closest to defining what the Hummingbirds are doing, with their sharp lyrics, subtle guitar colors, and widely spaced male-female harmonies. Lynn and Wood cowrite most of their songs and take their time polishing new ones to perfection.
What makes the fusion work is the Hummingbirds' immersion in classic country styles. They picked a good place to immerse themselves: a bluegrass musician once asked me, on hearing that I lived in Ann Arbor, "Isn't that near Ypsilanti?" Lynn and Wood honed their chops at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse bluegrass jams and worked with some of the musicians in the orbit of the late, lamented classic country AM radio station WSDS. They can sing country harmonies with the best of them (each sings harmony when the other is singing lead), and when they dig into a lyric like "I can't get on with my life/'Cause I can't get you off my mind," you can almost convince yourself you're listening to a country duet from decades ago. Rachel Lynn's voice adds to the illusion a throaty alto with an instinct for bearing down on the pitch so as to create really cutting harmonies. It's an extraordinary instrument that you'll swear you've heard before on the radio somewhere.
But the Hummingbirds aren't mannered country revivalists wearing Nudie suits and ornate cowboy boots. Their lyrics are
fresh and full of strong emotions, and they find simple and effective ways of situating their songs in the present. One of the best
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