Performing Friday, June 28

It feels good to be right. We crave the satisfaction, the ease. But what about when you’re not so sure? When you’re unsteady, angry, swayable, and doing your damned best anyway?

There’s something refreshingly humane about that uncertainty; about having the guts to try, even if you might be wrong. This is the central tenant of Humbird’s third full-length album, Right On, a radical ethos in this soap-box age, and an effort worth turning up the amps for, resulting in the project’s most electric, playful, mettled record yet.

Siri Undlin (the songwriter behind the moniker) and her collaborators tracked live and to tape over the course of two muggy weeks in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. For a collection of songs unafraid of ambiguity, it’s music that bares its teeth. Anger and dismay sizzle in response to current events. Heartbreak feels like sandpaper, while wildflowers bob and sway in an ever-expanding universe.

Produced by Shane Leonard and featuring regular contributors Pat Keen (bass, synth, percussion) and Pete Quirsfeld (drums and percussion), the majority of the songs showcase the locked-in rock trio, a progression from the contemplative folk musings of Undlin’s previous releases. Even so, Right On incorporates friendly winks to the more whimsical, soundscape-y improvisations that audiences have come to expect from a Humbird performance – electrified, gritty, Midwest Americana with a little magic fairy dust thrown in.

“Right On,” the title track and first song of the album, opens the record with a tone of resigned tenacity. ‘I’m not mad, but I should be / since true love proved unlucky / I cast the dye, I stained my hands / on wrongful judgments and half-baked plans.’ As the song moves through time and space, “being wrong” feels less and less like a failure, and instead transforms into guiding wisdom. The warm tremolo of the guitar maps along the grooves of the rhythm section, creating an atmosphere of inviting imperfection, a clever catalyst for the chorus’ simple melody to launch and land right in the tender part of your sternum.

Other notable tracks include “Child Of Violence,” complete with psych-rock phaser pedals, which explores the legacy and impact of white supremacy in middle America; “Cornfields and Roadkill” focuses in on land stolen for profit, and old-growth forests traded for mono crops in a sonic landscape reminiscent of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “Song For The Seeds” is a slow-burning synth number, imploring the listener to tear up their lawn. It wields a refrain that will germinate in your mind – a proper earworm.

Through observation and deft questioning, the lyrics land less like a political agenda and more like a hard conversation with a friend. All the while, you can hear the summertime pace where the recording took place, and the steady confidence of songs that have already traveled many miles on the road.

And those miles – they’re hard-earned. For Undlin, growing up steeped in church choirs and traditional Irish ensembles eventually led to conducting extensive folklore and musical research around the world as a Watson Fellow. That work inspired years of DIY touring around North America, including performing around the twin cities one backyard at a time during the pandemic. Undlin continues to expand and experiment as a writer and bandleader in a way that is fluid with each season, and oddly suited for this particular moment. Following the surprise success of the self-released debut album Pharmakon and the pensive reflections of 2021’s Still Life, Right On is the next iteration in her process of witnessing the world in all its complexity and responding with candid consideration.

For loyal fans and new listeners alike, Right On is a mischievously kind offering: a whole heap of songs that are unafraid to bask in the perfectly ordinary and also excruciating possibility that sometimes we’re right, often we’re wrong, but no matter what, music can meet us where we’re at and keep us company along the way.