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Hear It First at Folk Alley ~ The Stray Birds

July 19, 2012

Stray Birds cover take 2 200.jpgby Kim Ruehl, for

Folk music can be a tricky thing sometimes. There's a temptation, as an instrumentalist who knows and loves the way their instrument sounds, to follow any fluid emotion through an overreaching solo. When your bow draws against the fiddle strings in such a way that they positively sing, you can run away with it if you're not careful.

So, there's a lot to be said for the art of restraint. This is true of any style of music, but particularly in folk music - where the strings sing on their own and the songs are, as a general rule, more sparsely arranged.

A few contemporary artists keep it checked - most famously Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who have committed themselves to whatever they're capable of doing with two voices and two guitars. Within those confines, they've crafted a career of extraordinary musicianship which few others have managed to match.

The Stray Birds color PR for Hear iIt First.jpgThe Be Good Tanyas have nailed it across their three albums. Last year, the Milk Carton Kids burst on the scene with their similar approach to duo songwriting, swapping vocal leads and accompanying each other only on harmony vocals and guitar. They've displayed a new expertise for delivering exquisite music using only the tools available to their hands and voices.

Now, here come the Stray Birds - a trio based in Pennsylvania with a traditional folk lineup (three voices, banjo, bass, and fiddle) whose only diversions see them picking up a guitar or adding a second fiddle. The songs on their new self-titled album are remarkably stripped-down, written by the two lead vocalist, Maya de Vitry and Oliver Craven. Even the backing vocals are delivered with artful restraint - an "ooh" here, an "ah" there.

Lyrically, they're songs are about love ("Just Sayin'") and fear and making bad decisions ("25 to Life") - all the things folk songs are there to do. They trot and waltz and swing ("No Part of Nothin") and take an original path to pay homage to the Celtic roots of many folk instrumentals ("Give That Wildman a Knife/Bellows Falls/Waitin' on a Hannah").

Posted by Linda Fahey at 1:25 PM | Comments (1)

Hear It First at Folk Alley ~ The Be Good Tanyas: A Collection

July 10, 2012

Be Good Tanyas Collection 200.jpg

By Kim Ruehl, for

The Be Good Tanyas have been such an incredible presence in the evolution of Americana and indie roots music, it's hard to believe they've only released three albums in their 13-year career. Granted, those three albums included some of the most remarkably well-written heartbreak songs ("Scattered Leaves") and songs of hope ("The Littlest Birds") in the genre. They've also recorded excellent renditions of other people's songs (Townes Van Zandt's "Waiting Around to Die") and old time folk standards ("The Coo Coo Bird").

Now they're readying The Be Good Tanyas: A Collection - an extended 16-song retrospective which firmly encapsulates their solid, inimitable, banjo-driven folk-soul. Indeed, the Tanyas are adept at straddling lines - classic and contemporary, old-timey and newfangled. Their folk instrumentation, paired with Frazey Ford's deep delta soul vocals, has proven timeless in its innovation and cross-genre appeal.

The Be Good Tanyas: A Collection pulls together highlights of all three of their releases - Blue Horse, Chinatown, and Hello Love - with such seamlessness; it feels like this was the album they were reaching for all along, anyway. While the trio's members have struck out the past few years with remarkable solo projects (both Ford and Sam Parton have released albums worth dropping everything to hear, as has Trish Klein with Po' Girl), they're reuniting this year for a tour around the release of this retrospective.

In the spirit of reunion, they included two new songs. Both "Little Black Bear" and "Gospel Song" fit soundly within the Tanyas repertoire, as if no time had passed since their last recording. As Canadians, they still present traditional American music better than most folks from The States, bridging eras in a way which is more natural than nostalgia, more art than anachronism.

Indeed, this is a disc meant to revisit the Tanyas' creative accomplishments in a way which will remind long-time fans of their command over their craft, while introducing newcomers to their bigger picture. Kick back with a tall one and let them play you through a sweltering summer. No matter what, the Be Good Tanyas always keep it cool.

*Click HERE to pre-order The Be Good Tanyas: A Collection at*
*Click HERE to see their summer reunion tour schedule.*

Posted by Linda Fahey at 4:17 PM

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