Hear It First: The Stray Birds, 'Magic Fire'

by Cindy Howes, FolkAlley.com

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Anyone worried about the legacy of Levon Helm and The Band need not worry; the first 10 seconds of The Stray Birds' new album, Magic Fire will ease your mind in more ways than one. Produced by Larry Campbell, a man who was actually in Levon Helm's band (and who also has worked with the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Willie Nelson), the record was created in 10 days in New York State's Hudson Valley. Campbell's studio served as a retreat for the group, who had never worked with an outside producer. His vision aligned with theirs, plus he offered to play on whatever song they wanted. His production-lead and contributions on pedal steel, fiddle, mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar have taken this band to the next level.

Magic Fire - The Stray Birds' fourth full-length album - sees the band expanding and broadening their sound while adding Shane Leonard (drums/percussion/vocals) as a new member. Leonard heightens that rhythmic quality that the group always had and his groove settles right in on record. He'll be bringing it out on the road too, as he's now an official member of the band in concert as well as in the studio.

The first thing that strikes you when listening to The Stray Birds is the voice of Maya de Vitry, who also plays acoustic guitar and fiddle. In the past, her vocal style was the center the band, with Oliver Craven (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, fiddle, slide guitar, mandolin) and Charlie Muench (vocals, upright bass) as important supporting roles. The depths that de Vitry's voice reaches are quite unusual and extremely captivating. You could write an entire essay on the emotions this woman is able to encompass on just one song. However, discounting the contributions of the very talented Craven and Muench would be unwise. Craven's smart writing and sharp playing abilities are incomparable, while Muench's steady bass beat and vocals add to the distinct character of The Stray Birds. This album proves to be their most collaborative release with songwriting contributions from each member, including Muench's first complete composition "Where You Come From."

Something that has remained constant through their change in sound is The Stray Birds sweeping and massive harmonies. The band has masterfully crafted their choruses, which bring to mind those amazing refrains you'd hear from The Band in songs like "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." If the late Levon Helm were still around, you know he'd be hosting this young band at one of his famous Midnight Rambles at his barn in Woodstock, NY.

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The Stray Birds' Magic Fire is out via Yep Roc Records on Friday, August 19 and is available for pre-order HERE!

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