“Goodbye Virginia… 10 hours west to Nashville… I’m looking for a promise I don’t know if I’ll find…” So sing the Hummingbyrds on their terrific second CD, Purgatory Emporium. For a primer on how it feels to uproot yourself, pack your guitar and take all your dreams in a suitcase to Nashville, Tennessee, look no further. The music feels good, with guitars that jangle and shimmer, vocals and harmonies that recall Emmylou, Kelly Willis and Tom Petty, Steve Earle and even The Whites, The Jayhawks and Mary Chapin Carpenter, with an occasional sidelong glance at the Beatles. (They even name-check XTC as an influence.) The words, though, however sweetly sung, don’t shy away from hard truths. “God has his favorites… And God has his forgotten… Pretty sure you know if you’re chosen or you’re nothing… It’s all just a roll of the dice”
The Hummingbyrds’ second roll of that dice is a buoyant ride through Virginia mountains and Tennessee valleys, full of harmonies and hooks to raise a smile, and lyrics that range from love and yearning to dreams and cautionary tales.
Singers, songwriters, alumni of a much-loved theatrical troupe, musicians and partners in life, Debra Buonaccorsi and Steve McWilliams have been at it in this guise as Hummingbyrds for four years. Hailing from near and around our nation’s capital – he from northern Virginia and she from Baltimore – they made the move to Nashville in 2015. Purgatory Emporium speaks of their journey, and cements them as a jewel in the Americana scene.
They met 10 years ago doing theater back home. “I had quit music for a while and I went into that OTHER lucrative career: acting!” Steve laughs, “And I kept getting cast as the man with a guitar!” He met Debra doing Evita at a little theatre in Maryland, and they hit it off. “Musically we had the same tastes. And we got together to write some theatre, and put together the Dizzy Miss Lizzies Roadside Revue. We wrote and performed three or four shows, culminating in “The Brontes”, which is out on DVD.
“The Brontes” did so well that they took it to New York, but the long hours and constant details needing attention led to burnout. “It was such a production with so many people,” Debra says, “because there's fundraising, even more so than music, and I thought, you know what? I just want to write and play our stuff, so let's simplify everything.” Since they wanted to spend more time together anyway, they did just that, making a demo to help get gigs, which turned out becoming their eponymous first CD – and then they made the move to Nashville.
Expertly produced by Nashville guitar ace, Dave Coleman (with a couple of tracks helmed by Phil Keaggy), the sounds don’t encroach on the chemistry on Steve and Debra, their two acoustic guitars, and her occasional accordion, but Dave throws tasty guitar atmosphere here and there when it fits and keeps the sounds big but spacious. Standouts include the character study of “Eddie” the town genius ne’er do well, the ominous warning of the oncoming storm brewing in “Oh My”, the lovely and ever tuneful “Simple Life”, an elegy about hard choices.
In the CD’s final track, “Photographs” they wrap it all up. “The story’s never right or never wrong… It’s just who sings the song.” The Hummingbyrds are signing the song they’re meant to be. The honesty shines through. Sweet melody and soft urgency make the medicine go down. It’s all a roll of the dice, and this is one they may yet win.
"I've know Steve McWilliams for more years than I care to count. His music has always led from the heart, full of melody and an open spirit. With Debra, he has found a perfect partner, in voice and song and music. The Hummingbyrds make you think and make you happy. What more could you ask for?"
(Red Beet Records, Last Train Home, Eric Brace & Peter Cooper)
"Songwriting smarts and skin-tight harmony tackle the human condition with sobriety and candor"
(WSM, 650 AM Nashville)
"The Hummingbyrds have once again provided a great Americana soundtrack on their latest release Purgatory Emporium. Their lyrics, melodies and harmonies on songs like The Mountain, Roll of the Dice and Photographs showcase that this Nashville duo understand personalities, relationships and life experience like no one else."
produced by Dave Coleman
Available on ITunes
click on the photo