Alan Williams - vocals and guitar
Darleen Wilson - guitar and vocals
Greg Porter - bass and vocals
“Art is the Handmaid of Human Good” serves as the motto of Lowell, Massachusetts, the birthplace of Jack Kerouac, Bette Davis, the American industrial revolution, and where Birdsong At Morning draw their inspiration as a part of the growing community of artists and musicians moved by the heritage and the spirit of renewal evidenced all around them. Thought-provoking and soul-baring, Birdsong At Morning’s music spins elegant tapestries of sound, words, and melodies that reflect the city’s solid foundation of the still standing brickwork, and the warmth of the beating hearts within this community. “Lowell has a large number of brick mills and factories that are preserved as a National Historical Park. Yet at the same time, there’s a thriving creative art scene taking place in the spaces where spindles and looms produced much of the fabric that clothed a new nation,” says singer Alan Williams, who also holds a full-time position as Chair of the music department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. “It’s a curious place where past, present, and future coexist, and an endless source of inspiration for character stories, and inventive sounds.”
Birdsong At Morning, a phrase that comes from a 19th century Robert Louis Stevenson poem, is a project centered around Williams, who writes and sings the songs, creates the string arrangements, conducts the orchestra, co-engineers, produces and mixes the albums as well as scripts, directs, and edits the band’s music videos. He leads the collaborative effort between he and his bandmates, guitarist Darleen Wilson and bassist Greg Porter, as well as a host of new and old collaborators.
From their quietly ambitious four-CD box set debut, Annals of My Glass House (2011), through the expansive territory of A Slight Departure (2015), and now with the official launch of their masterful new album, Signs and Wonders, Birdsong At Morning is poised to make their national debut. “It’s the most fully realized version of what we have set out to do so far, a progression from the more tentative, getting our sea-legs version on the Annals box, to the far-more confident Slight Departure a few years back,” says Williams. The new album was conceived with the visuals in mind, so the full-experience includes the videos for each track. “Many of the songs celebrate the too-easily overlooked beauty of the world, while simultaneously hinting that such beauty can be surrounded by darker forces, especially in the current political climate.”
Like many indie-minded endeavors, Birdsong At Morning is assisted by extraordinarily talented friends – long-time collaborative partner Ben Wittman (Sting, Erasure, Paula Cole) plays drums, Thomas Juliano (Seven Mary Three, Catie Curtis) on electric guitar, recorded with David Minehan (Paul Westerburg, Aerosmith) at his studio, Woolly Mammoth Sound, and mastered by Grammy Award winner Adam Ayan, who has mastered many award winning recordings, including 46 Grammy Award winners, is a 5x Latin Grammy Award winner, and a 2018 nominee for Audio Engineer of the Year by the Academy Of Country Music.
Williams’ fascination with music began in Asheville, NC at the age of three when he lifted the needle of his Fischer-Price record player, “A babysitter left a copy of The Beatles’ ‘I am the Walrus’ 45 at our house, and I was drawn into the fantastical sounds that emanated from my record player.” It was an odd record to serve as an introduction to pop music, but he was immediately captivated at that very young age and through the years that followed. “I wanted to make those sounds. I wanted to make records. Music and recordings were inseparable concepts for me from that point on.”
During his high school years, Williams met Porter through a mutual friend and even though they were from opposite ends of North Carolina (Porter was from Fayetteville), they bonded instantly and formed their first band together. Porter’s parents were professors at a small liberal arts college, “My whole family was very involved in the local music, theater and arts scene. So much of my childhood was spent in music lessons, theater rehearsals, band practice and family music making.” Porter and Williams would go on to attend a summer session together at Berklee School of Music In Boston and then furthered their musical education at the New England Conservatory of Music majoring in Third Stream music - Gunther Schuller’s conception of improvised music that took place across a wide spectrum of structures and genre-codes, a hybrid of jazz and classical. But by the time they got there the program was run by Ran Blake, and had become not a binary hybridization, but a place where ideas from any musical language, visual and literary reference points could form the basis of a musical statement. Since then, much of its curriculum has been absorbed into what is called Contemporary Improvisation and has given rise to players such as John Medeski, Aoife O’Donovan, and more recently, Lake Street Dive.
After graduation, Williams and Porter went their separate ways – Porter formed Talking To Animals, a band that rose to prominence in the Boston music scene after becoming finalists in the WBCN Rumble, propelled by the drumming of Jay Bellerose, who then left to become one of the top session drummers in Los Angeles. Eventually, the band released one album on Velvel Records, the imprint of former CBS President, Walter Yetnikoff. After the band broke up, Porter went on to record and tour with such artists as Aimee Mann, Patty Griffin, Martin Sexton, among others. Williams formed Knots and Crosses, a folk-rock band who played around Boston for years. During this time, he met Darleen Wilson, who helped produce some demos for Knots and Crosses. Wilson, a trained classical pianist, was one of the go-to engineer/producers in Boston working with a broad spectrum of artists from punk (Salem 66), to pop (New Kids On The Block), before becoming the pre-eminent producer of New England singer/songwriters – Bill Morrissey, Patty Larkin, Catie Curtis, Chris Smither.
Knots and Crosses experienced some minor success with their self-released album, Creatures of Habit when a couple of radio stations in Maine and Boston started putting the record into regular rotation. They ended up selling over 13,000 copies placing them in the top-ten sales charts for local outlets of Tower and Newbury Comics, and it attracted the interest from major labels. They signed with Island Records, cutting tracks with a Cajun band in Louisiana and working with the amazing Muscle Shoals rhythm section in Alabama. “A surreal, wonderful, terrifying, bewildering couple of weeks that yielded no usable recordings,” says Williams. “Right at that moment, Chris Blackwell sold Island to Polygram, and with the exception of U2, Bob Marley, Melissa Etheridge and a few others, pretty much the rest of the roster was dropped. Including us.” Knots and Crosses was history.
During the long period between the demise of Knots and Crosses and when Birdsong At Morning was formed, he and Wilson began dating, working together on occasional recording projects, but not making music together, yet. Darleen in turn had hired Greg to play bass on different records she was producing. Williams also embarked on parallel careers in music production and academia. He served as musical director for Dar Williams and engineered a number of records for Patty Larkin, while earning a PhD in Ethnomusicology from Brown University. He is a full professor of music at UMass Lowell and has published a number of scholarly chapters and journal articles, all while maintaining a presence as a creative, performing musician. In his spare time, he is also a certified yoga instructor. Namaste.