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A Bird in the Heart: An Album Review of Eric Peters’ Birds of Relocation

A bird in flight is a beautiful thing. We watch and are captivated by its elegant cooperation with the wind, its effortless sailing set off by broad, beating wings. Reversing the fate of the living room canary, we are caught, if only for a moment, by the wild grace of its art. Would it draw us further in to know where it began its flight? What if the tree had been in flames and it only just got out alive? What if every cheerful chirrup was a thanksgiving hymn?

Eric Peters has crafted his greatest album to date. I am almost confident enough to say “by far.” That would be saying an awful lot and only time will tell. The story Eric tells on Birds of Relocation is his own escape story. It’s the airborne travelogue of a grateful, singed survivor, the record of one songbird whose shining eyes are turned suddenly skyward.

It begins with “The Old Year,” the proverbial bough from which this bird has flown. And he has two words for that past, that burning bough, that old year of denial: “Ha ha.”

“Ha ha to the old year, goodbye to the cold fear, Gonna cry when I need it, smile when I need it, Goodbye, denial.”

“The Old Year” is not quite anthemic, but it’s close. It’s artful affirmation is a theme threaded throughout the record:

“I’m gonna live like a living soul, I’m gonna write it on my wretched bones, And stop waiting for happily ever after.”

And we’re off. Eric’s faithful fans won’t be disappointed with either the sound or the substance of the record. Bird of Relocation features the best weapons in Eric’s arsenal: that voice, those words, and their melodic marriage.

That voice, migrating a wider range than ever before, is the central pillar. The words are made in the image of their maker, a pilgrim poet who seems surprised that he’s made something beautiful. The melodic issue is musical magic.

The second song is fun. “Lost and Found” might cite Paul Simon and The Chieftains as sources, 80s pop and Irish echoes. It’s likely the most catchy song on the record–and that’s saying a lot. Eric’s brand of folk-pop, where often desperate sadness will dress up in the happy clothes of a catchy tune, is best observed here–only the theme isn’t a bit sad. It’s a celebration of turning away from the darkness and embracing the bright sunshine of a resurrected reality.

“This is the world turning upside down,         When the light that was lost is found.                 Come see the dawn with the darkness refused,         Today is yesterday made new.” 

“Don’t Hold Your Breath” is another catchy song that you’ll be singing for weeks. It’s been widely shared as a music video (here). No doubt many of you have already heard it and experienced the happy impossibility of getting it out of your head.

“Where Would I Go” is the first love song on the album. Eric always has a song for his wife, Danielle, on each record. These tend to be some of my favorites in the EP catalog. I’ve seen Eric play many concerts and he always plays at least one of them, singing about the love he’s left behind at home. But she can never really be left behind while he carries her with him in these songs. “Where Would I Go,” is Eric at his catchiest and most caught. Anyone who has been through the minefield of matrimony will appreciate this heartfelt, happy homage to his true love.

“Voices” relocates Eric back on the burning bough, battling with the darkness and doubt that he had hoped to fly away from. It’s a war we understand if we are awake enough to see, alive enough to feel, frail enough to fear, and weak enough to sometimes doubt–especially ourselves. When we listen to the voices that tell us we are worthless, we recapitulate the Fall. In an aching verse, we travel back:

“In the garden when we lived inside the garden, Creatures bright and shining, we were dust brought to life.

In the silence when we lean into the silence, We choose the things that hates us most and rest upon its lies.”

We follow him in and–very importantly–out, as he emerges listening, not to the voices of condemnation, but instead to the saints’ and angels’ song. Here is an apt allusion to that great refrain of hymnody. “Oh love of God, how rich and pure, how measureless and strong. It shall forever more endure, the saints’ and angels’ song.”

“Today Dream” is another occasion to meet domestic Eric, a funny and poignant picture of a present-absent father. This is the Eric of escaping daydreams. In the song, he takes his wife’s side in an argument against himself, against his tendency to disappear and disengage. Never one to shy from self-examination, it’s a mirror he holds up to his own face, but many of us will see ourselves and be moved to move on, more awake than before. It’s a call to being present everywhere you are, especially at home.

“Soul and Flesh” is another lovely tribute to Danielle, one of my favorites. It echoes Johnny Cash’s “Flesh and Blood” with its premise and features a wonderfully simple chorus.

“She loves me for my smile,             And for the crow’s feet on my eyes.             She loves the song deep inside my chest, She loves me soul and flesh.”

“Different, Separate Lives.” This is a rollicking, Americana exploration of how separate and together we all are. If you are the dancing type and the cowboy hat-wearing type, then this is your moment. I neither dance nor cowboy, but this song is just plain fun.

“No Stone Unturned.” I got a sneak peek on this one a few weeks back and it’s been sliding around inside my head and heart for that entire time. Like so much of Eric’s music, it grows on and in you. This is another love song, only this one is aimed heavenward, a touching tribute to God’s power to name us, claim us, and never give up on us. It’s one of Eric’s most spiritually searching, deeply truthful songs about God’s character, revealed in fitting metaphors with a stirred voice. Like so much of this record, there’s a thankfulness underlying every note.

“We are rough and ready, We’re primed to steal the show, And though we’re prone to doubt it We’re selves of our former shadows. I was listing and listening in the wind It was not that God was enemy But that I had not been friend.

I am ashamed (of my less-wild lovers),                 Deserted was my name (until you gave me another).     But you pursued (all the torches left to burn),         In the midnight searching you leave no stone unturned.”

“The New Year.” Again, many have heard this excellent song from the preview posted recently. If “The Old Year” looked back, this song, appropriately enough, looks forward to a brighter horizon. The lyrics say it best. Here is a small section:

“This is the year when laughter douses charred and burnt-out dreams, This is the year when wrens return to nest in storm-blown trees. Is this the year of relocation from boughs of old despair? This is the year to perch on hope’s repair.

Oh, oh, oh it’s a new year.                     Oh, oh, oh it’s a brand new light.                 Oh, oh, oh can you believe it?                     It’s the skies that we dream of.

“Fighting for Life” is a perfect ending for this record. For a moment the music makes you believe you have literally ended on a sad note. But it’s a song that gathers momentum to become a final broadside against the darkness, a declaration of interdependence. Here is an acknowledgment of the realities of pain, of the sometimes unsettled, unsettling future. But in the face of this inevitable struggle, Eric Peters is finally defiant.

“I go into the darkness carrying a light, I will have no fear because I’m not alone, I got angels’ voices and friends who love me for who I am. So when the waters come, I fly above this flooded earth looking for a sign of life, And I relocate on boughs of hope, Like a living soul, remembering: In a little while, in a little while, The ghosts return to noise. Oh, but not right now, not right now, The sky must be enjoyed.”

This song, and the record, resonate deeply with me. I don’t have a life verse, but if I did, it would be this passage from Ecclesiastes. Maybe that’s why Eric has always felt like a kindred spirit. I suspect you might be one too.

“Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.     So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.     Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.     Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 11:7-10 ESV)

Just in time for spring, this songbird is loose and eying bright blue skies. For Eric Peters, it’s the flight of his life, but you’re invited to come along. There is so much to see, hear, and appreciate if you do. There are predators lurking, a darkness along the corners of our eyes. We may be troubled where we perch, but this is the year for relocation. It’s finally plain:  “The sky must be enjoyed.”


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