From a marketing and name recognition standpoint, it makes perfect sense to connect Born To Fly – the winsome emerging Portland OR alt country/Americana band led by powerhouse veteran singer/songwriters Carol Ann Wood and Brian Thompson – to the legendary band Heart. The stellar production values on the group’s engagingly infectious, multi-faceted debut Reach for the Sky come courtesy of the Heart founding members, guitarist Roger Fisher (a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer) and his brother, Michael Fisher, known as the “Magic Man” for inspiring that iconic hit.
Yet the confidence and gorgeous vocal harmonies we hear from the moment Wood and Thompson join forces to prophetically declare “You were born to fly…so high…” at the start of the uplifting title track pop/rocker makes it clear that their organic chemistry would bring the ear-popping magic even if they were casually jamming in a makeshift garage studio. That they attracted the likes of the Fishers to take them to a shimmering next sonic level speaks to the dynamic mix of gritty fire and lush soaring harmonies at the heart (pun intended!) of their intuitive creativity.
While the trademark blend of their voices is a constant highlight to look forward to throughout, Born To Fly’s uniqueness is rooted in the different points of view and musical and rhythmic vibe of each song, depending on whether Wood or Thompson sings lead. While the rollicking, uber-romantic “Rainbow” finds her aspiring to “good thing in my life” and finding love at last, Thompson gets the dancing honky tonk in gear on the much edgier, tongue in cheek “She’s so Hot” – which includes the refrain “Can’t wait to get burned.”
The same alternating POVs happen when we compare his heartfelt and witty, blues-inflected declaration of love (“I Believe”) and thumpin’, foot-stompin’ fruitless pursuit romp “Who Needs a Woman” (which finds him concluding on the infectious hook, “Who needs a woman when you’ve got a guitar?”) to her heartbreaking traditional-minded, steel guitar-tinged country ballad “Milwaukee” and reflective, philosophical “Everything Else,” which taps the angelic upper reaches of her voice.
For all those fascinating back and forth conversations, it feels like the true heart and soul of Reach for the Sky is the two-song centerpiece celebrating the love of music and family (“My Daddy’s Gibson”) and an enduring pop classic (“The Air That I Breathe”). Recorded live, the first is a loping, super-charming, fiddle strewn mid-tempo narrative about Wood’s mother doing all she could to afford to give her husband a Gibson guitar – and how the Gibson remains part of the growing family’s life and becomes even more important when he’s gone. It’s a sweet song about how music impacts our lives.
Likewise, classic romantic gestures like the Hollies-popularized “The Air That I Breathe” typify how great songs can have the same effect. Born To Fly’s take strips away the orchestral grandeur of the Hollies version for an earthier arrangement around Wood’s intimate, sensual vocal. As the track progresses, it picks up a different kind of epic excitement with the duo’s gospel flavored harmonies on the chorus.
If Born to Fly sounds like a band’s that’s been around longer than it actually has, it’s due to the extensive history of its members in a wide variety of settings over the years. Wood comes from a musical family with an extensive history of performing all over the country, while Thompson has been playing, recording and entertaining for 35 years, from Nashville to California. Their amazing band includes Marty Hoyle (vocals and piano), Jimmy Cliff (vocals and bass), Rick Boyce (percussion), with Roger Fisher adding his guitar, mandolin and vocals.