Young veterans are nothing new in the music biz, but it still feels odd that Jade Bird is just 23: Her label, Glassnote, began showcasing her five years ago and she soon followed with an EP and, in 2019, a solid debut album. But her new release, “Different Kinds of Light,” is the proverbial big step forward, the one that conjures words like “maturity” and finds her becoming a seasoned performer, songwriter and especially singer.
It’s almost like hearing a different artist, particularly on the opening “Open Up the Heavens” and the tracks that immediately follow — her smooth yet powerful delivery hasn’t necessarily changed, but there’s a subtlety and emotional depth that wasn’t there before. Especially in a live setting, Bird is a stop-you-in-your-tracks singer, but here, there’s a new subtlety and seasoning. Like a lot of great singers growing into themselves, she seems less eager to show how hard she can belt, using her gale-force, full-throttle register strategically, and more effectively — and the same is true of the songs, all of which were written by her (around half in collaboration with her guitarist, Lucky Kilmartin).
A key factor in that development is likely producer Dave Cobb (Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell), who has probably been aware of Bird for some time — her 2017 debut U.S. tour was opening for his cousin, singer-songwriter Brent Cobb — although this album is their first collaboration. He’s wisely steered her in more of an alt-country, Nashville direction, although there’s not a fiddle, mandolin or twang in earshot (which is something that can be said about a lot of country albums these days).
After that opening burst of songs, Bird settles into a more familiar sound, with Cobb mixing up the arrangements, throwing in Smiths-y guitars on a couple of songs and the occasional Duane Eddy-esque hook.
Unusually for an album that shows such poise, much of “Different Kinds of Light” was recorded during the peak of lockdown in a variety of studios, from Nashville to Upstate New York to Mexico. And although it might be a stronger album at 11 songs instead of 15, minus of the less strong tracks, it finds this young singer starting a whole new chapter of what should be a long career.