She’s always had a way of finding those human stories that make us feel connected to some of the very big themes and questions that she tackles in her songs. Wendy McNeill‘s music often deals with the epic, the mythic, the unknowable, the elemental… but in an artfully narrative, poetically detailed way that draws the listener right into the very human emotions at the heart of it. And with her new album, First There Were Feathers, those very human emotions are evoked by 17 songs that are all about birds.
Whether she’s wielding a guitar, a kalimba, a looping pedal, or her trademark accordion, Wendy McNeill’s been crafting a sound all her own throughout her acclaimed discography, ever since she started her recording career more than a qurter-century ago now.
Her art has always been global in nature — both in the sense that she contemplates issues that affect us all, ranging from ecological concerns to the mysteries of the human heart; as well as in the way that her noirish folk music draws on influences that seem to know no borders. And you can add “globe-trotter” to that description, as well, as she long ago branched out from her Alberta roots to live in various culturally rich locales in Scandinavia and Europe, making her home these days in Spain.
The place that she lives is along the flightpath of many migratory birds travelling between Africa and Northern Europe; after massive wildfires in both her adopted Spanish home and her old Albertan stomping grounds, she began to wonder how those birds were impacted by the fires. Digging into both the scientific and the poetic sides of this question, she created her new album as a means of exploring how birds could bring us stories, messages, and wisdom about the perilous situation that humanity is currently facing. “A wild wisdom wrapped in verse,” as she says in the album track that she’ll spin for us, “The Language of the Birds.”
Along the near hour of music on her new album, we meet many different bird voices, as they share their various elevated perspectives. They relate to tales from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Oscar Wilde, and Greek mythology, as well as stories from her own boundless imagination.
During a visit to Alberta in the wake of the album’s release, Wendy came to CKUA studios and brought along a song to spin for us, her captivating stories and wit, and of course, her trusty accordion, Ruby.