Photo courtesy of Naomi Hamilton
Parma Violets is the title of the debut full length recording by Jealous of the Birds, just released. Naomi Hamilton, a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and poet from Portadown, County Armagh in Northern Ireland records under the name Jealous of the Birds. Last year she racked up many positive notices for Capricorn, her six track EP of original compositions recorded in her bedroom. Drawing much attention was "Goji Berry Sunset", which also leads off Parma Violets, now given a proper studio recording.
Heretofore I might have questioned the judgement of anyone who incorporated whistling into their music, but after a number of plays I must admit that I find the whistling in "Goji Berry Sunset" most charming and a nice way to draw you into the song. Before you know it, you are one on one or maybe I should say one on two with Hamilton's attractive voice duetting with herself. The effect focuses your attention on some very intriguing lyrics as her multi-track vocals alternate between the right and left speakers.
Watch "Goji Berry Sunset"
Parma Violets is all over the map, stylistically. Hamilton describes her music as "indie, indie rock, alternative, punk, lo-fi, bedroom, acoustic, grunge, (and) singer/songwriter." I'll go along with all of that except maybe lo-fi. Setting aside for a moment my issues with lo-fi, having listened to Parma Violets repeatedly, I'd say that in this instance "lo-fi" refers more to an attitude or even recording style than a measure of the actual sound quality.
Hamilton, who wrote all of the songs and played almost all of the instruments, is far more than an overachieving teenager. Her musicianship sounds like a well accomplished band, particularly the electric guitar work, piano, acoustic guitar and some more than adequate drumming.
She has quite a gift for songwriting, especially her lyrics. Since the release of her EP in March 2015, she says that she wrote 60 songs from which the thirteen selections on Parma Violets were drawn. Hamilton says, "My only hope is that the songs sound like a real friend talking." And that they do. This is how the title track begins:
hang tibetan paintings on my bedroom wall
stick stars on the ceiling so i don’t feel so small
god i wish i could call you, what the hell would i say?
hope you’re feeling better, we should hang out some day
oh please don’t you swallow
pills like parma violets again
That's the first verse of a very compelling song. The press release explains, "It goes back round to the sense that it’s like a real friend talking. In this case it’s as one person offering real compassion and empathy to another struggling with suicide. As Naomi explains: 'In essence, it's an expression of compassion – a hand of loving kindness reaching towards another human being across the widest chasm.'”
Photo courtesy of Naomi Hamilton
Much of her subject matter is consistent with her age (nineteen, as of this writing), but her lyricism is not; her use of language is genuinely artful making this debut sound like the work of a fully realized artist. In interviews, Hamilton mentions reading and writing poetry since the age of thirteen, and it shows. At times I am reminded of the subtle and delicate sweetness of Rosie Thomas' compositions crossed with the brash smarts of Nellie McKay. Hamilton cites Elliott Smith and Kurt Cobain as influences; you can hear them in there too. I love the sound of her voice combined with the apparent contradiction of singer-songwriter, folk, and grunge-punk. It all really works.
It was interesting to read that when she first started playing, Naomi sang quite a few Bob Dylan tunes. Listening to this album, the first couple of seconds of "Trouble in Bohemia" always make me think of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone". Hamilton's got some very quirky love songs too, and I mean quirky in the best possible sense. Listen to "Marcus" using the linked tracklist below. Another great example is "Russian Doll"; here's how it ends:
in truth, i’m a russian doll
my egos shut inside
i painted them by hand
and i’ll never let them die
my cracked skull is a bowl
that holds a coral sea
it’s filled with trashy poems
and eastern cherry trees
despite how much i want to
just punch you in the face
my favourite smell on this earth
is still your pillowcase
Declan Legge produced the album. Naomi Hamilton sang and played everything but violin and cello, which were played by Hannah McPhillimy and Nianh Galwey respectively. Parma Violets was recorded at Legge's studio in Newry from May to November, 2015.
Hamilton was interviewed in The Irish News. In the issue dated May 7, 2016 she said, "Before the EP came out I had just been singing Bob Dylan songs and Elliott Smith songs and stuff like that. Then I was given recording equipment as a gift and I started recording in my bedroom and when I had enough songs I just thought, `I’ll release an EP’. I put it up on Facebook and I couldn’t believe the attention that it garnered. But people were kind of pigeon-holing me as this folky singer-songwriter, but part of that was just because I was limited in what I could record myself at home – so that sound kind of just presented itself. I’m into punk and grunge a lot of other stuff, so I’m happy that I was able to create the sounds that I wanted to on this album."
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Tracklist: click song title to listen
1. Goji Berry Sunset
2. Parma Violets
3. Russian Doll
4. Miss Misanthrope
5. Trouble in Bohemia
6. Tonight I Feel Like Kafka
8. The Zodiac Bar
9. Powder Junkie
11. Purple Octopus
12. Mountain Lullaby
13. Hornet’s Nest
Photo courtesy of The Irish News
Poet's Day: I am in the debt of blog contributor and published poet Sara Clancy who sent me a link to the video you see below as Bonus Video #1, Hamilton singing Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat". It's quite lovely, a stops-you-in-your-tracks type of cover tune. Sara met Naomi at an small on-line poetry group. When it comes to song lyrics and poetry, I know what I like. And although the same may be true about modern poetry, I feel somewhat out of my element commenting on it. So I asked Sara for her reaction to Parma Violets. I now turn the floor over to Sara.
"Poetry is medicine,” says singer-songwriter Naomi Hamilton on theDebut EP: Here you can listen to and/or buy Jealous of the Birds' debut EP Capricorn.
euphonious track, “Goji Berry Sunset," the opening song of her new
album Parma Violets. And what a sweet relief that poetry is. No dull
predictable corporate-written break-up tunes, here. No breathy vocal
gymnastics and no artifice. Instead, the listener is treated to a slice
of this young woman’s outlook in tactile specificity and gorgeous
detail. These songs are vivid, lush and surprising.
From laugh out loud self-parody, “I couldn’t be any more of a hipster if
I tried” and the joyful “from my bluebird heart, I’m a singing girl” to
the sensual “blackjack eyes and tambourine hips/got a corkscrew mind and
the sweetest grip” these songs demand that you listen to each word, defy
you to anticipate them and then reward you with their quirky complex
beauty. There are so many great lyrics on this album, it’s hard to pick out
just a few without falling back into the songs and listening to the
whole thing over again.
No need to keep your eye on Ms. Hamilton’s career. If she keeps
writing songs like these, “when [she] is 22,” she’ll be a household name.
Bonus Video #1: Naomi Hamilton performs a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat".
Bonus Video #2: Radio Interview with Johnny Hero on U105 Drive, which includes a live performance of "Miss Misanthrope", April 29, 2016.
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