As I write this, the US government has been shut down for 12 days over an apparent impasse over border security. Whatever your view on that issue and where the blame belongs, it’s hard to ignore this political moment while listening to the debut solo single from former Stray Birds frontwoman Maya de Vitry. (Her album, Adaptions, is due Jan. 25.)
“Go Tell a Bird” does everything a folk song is supposed to do—and does it exceptionally well. It is both simple and complex, digestible and impossible, distilling some of the most seemingly complicated, urgent and timeless human debates down to 35 words in fewer than four minutes. Its instrumentation is collaborative and swelling, like the cooperation between a pair of wings and a good hard gust.
Its lyrics allude to questions far beyond immigration (the verse about being in the wrong body could just as soon be a comment on transphobia, as it could be about sexism, racism, ableism, or any number of other forms of discrimination).
The refrain (“Go tell a bird about the land of the free”) is so perfectly composed as to not even need to explain itself. All the questions about the veracity of borders and the movement of humans around the globe is wrapped up in that single line of poetry.
Just in case the line doesn’t land for listeners at the beginning of the song, de Vitry backs up through the lyrics at the end, like a review before the test, then ends with the which-side-are-you-on clincher one last time
De Vitry is not the first artist to take a swing at the topic of American borders and immigration. Tom Russell’s classic “Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall” comes to mind, as does Anais Mitchell’s genius “Why We Build the Wall,” from the Broadway-bound Hadestown. While Russell and Mitchell’s songs, both composed more than a decade ago, remark directly on the tangible question of the purpose of walls, de Vitry’s tune quite literally soars above. It’s quite a reintroduction for the former Stray Bird.
Adaptations is available for pre-order now HERE.