Not So Solo 

Nat Russell gets by with a little help from his friends.

There are many birds in America, but no birds in Birds of America. That is to say, there are no ladies in the band Birds of America, and, really, just one man, Nathaniel Russell. Confused yet? "I'm not obsessed with birds or anything," says Russell, whose musical moniker doesn't have all that interesting a genesis, by his own admission. "But there's definitely a huge part of the record for me that, if there was a theme, would be about ... the eternal nature of being alive and being a member of the Earth."

The record in question is the mellow, subtly psychedelic Current Carry, out Tuesday on Isota Records and featuring substantial contributions from Russell's former housemate, Sam Flax Keener, who'll play with him at the disc's coming-out party Saturday. "He has a really great tendency to do really appropriate and really simple arrangements," Russell says. The middle bridge of "I Wish I Was Born an Animal," for instance -- Keener's melodic bass ascending, like a staircase of fuzz, toward the sun -- takes the listener by surprise, but also is perfectly suited for the song, coming as it does after the reedy, languid assertion, I am still alive. "We couldn't really record a drum set at all in the house because of the neighbors," Russell explains, "so we would just try to figure out how to make it as bombastic and fuzzy as we possibly could."

The show Saturday also is a CD release party for Pacific Grove native Sean Smith, who effectively channels the spirit of John Fahey to the wonder-stirring Monterey coast, and whose new disc on Isota comes out the same day; upon arriving in Berkeley for an artist residency at Kala Art Institute, Russell met Isota's Joe Finlaw at Mod Lang. Finlaw got him a job there and soon offered to put out the second Birds of America seven-inch. A silkscreen and letterpress printmaker, Russell now does nearly all of Isota's artwork. Take in the label's musical side at the Mile High Club, 3629 MLK, Oakland, starting at 9 p.m. $5 cover. Info: 510-654-4549 or


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