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In his day job as a political writer (for the libertarian publication Reason), Virginia’s Meredith Bragg sees the unpleasantness of the current state of American affairs up close. That perspective seems to color “Birds of North America,” the lovely but troubling first single from Bragg’s third album, Nest.
On “Birds of North America,” Bragg paints a portrait of a nation where to be a public figure is to be viewed as a target like a duck in duck season. Whether you’re someone running for president or a teenaged starlet who simply wants to behave like every other teenager in the country (i.e. appallingly), there’s someone else who has you in their sights and is just itching to blow you out of the sky. The strong ones will survive, the rest will end up roasted and served up for consumption on TMZ.
Bragg seems especially aware that it’s his own profession driving the hunting frenzy. Lines like “Take a shot and aim for center / Take a shot with ink-stained fingers” underline the media’s complicity in making sure that no ambition – be it for fame or public service or whatever – will go unpunished in the America of today.
What saves the song from being an absolute downer of a civics lesson is the fact that it’s a pretty gorgeous piece of work. It begins with acoustic guitar plucking out a nice little melodic figure, which is then overlaid with cello sawing out the same pattern. Bragg’s vocals are laid-back, with a subtle female harmony lending him support until the song climaxes with a humming drone laid over the top of the entire thing.
It’s a pleasantly mesmerizing four minutes of music that reports a nasty reality, yet still seems to maintain a hopeful outlook. Which only makes sense – if Meredith Bragg is able to make a topic like the blood sport which passes for discourse in America these days into a song like “Birds of North America,” there’s got to be some hope for the rest of us.