Birds and Arrows used to be the pair of Pete and Andrea Connolly, a young couple of newlyweds who made sweet, sincere and fairly simple folk-rock. Like a couple of Laurel Canyon songwriters taking long, happy sojourns through the sunshine, the Connollys used familiar ideas and images to convey their devotion and happiness. It worked in its way, though you got the sense that—as with another former couples band, Raleigh's The Rosebuds—they'd have to push past that motif and their limited personnel in order to make a more compelling statement and, frankly, a career.
We're Gonna Run, the second Birds and Arrows LP, does both of those things: A team of top-notch locals, from producer Nick Peterson to oboist Wendy Spitzer, lend their talents here. Most notably, though, cellist Josh Starmer has officially joined the band, now a trio. His instrument's moody resonance adds foreboding to the Connollys' sweetly harmonizing voices. Whereas their debut was a look at a new couple dealing lovingly with life, We're Gonna Run adds appropriate clouds to a once-honeymoon atmosphere. The songs have grown to fit those modes, whether on the rock-ready "April 12th" or the spectral drift of "3 Ponies." On the album's finest moment, Pete lets his voice ease out, like Iron & Wine moaning over a Cat Stevens canvas. Built on tiny but telling lyrical details ("Washing clothes in an unbalanced washing machine") and with smartly economic swells, it's the best moment of the band's career, a promise that they've got real range.
With the simpatico husk and coo of the Connollys' voices and the multiple layers of their partnership, Birds and Arrows have always seemed like a natural, graceful band. That's what makes it especially surprising that the major hiccup here is that these performances sometimes seem stiff and forced, as though the band didn't properly break in its newly extravagant outfit before presenting it to the public. "Time Alone" jerks in awkward gestures, the musicians and the Connollys never quite finding the proper pocket, a problem that again shows itself on "Another Life" and "Summer's Gone." But that's a foible of practice and development, not of capability and ambition. We're Gonna Run, thankfully, delivers on the latter two in rivers.