THE STRAY BIRDS – Magic Fire (Yep Roc Records CD-YEP-2475)

Magic FireMagic Fire, The Stray Birds’ third full-length album, opens with three gloriously anthemic songs. They are rooted in the American tradition but explode from the speakers with such power. The band’s basic skeleton of guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo are augmented by drummer Shane Leonard and built on by the hands of producer Larry Campbell – the first time The Stray Birds have used an outside producer.

The first song, ‘Shining In The Distance’, a song-writing collaboration with Lindsay Lou, is already available in cyberspace and it’s the sort of song you put on a continuous loop as Maya de Vitry’s lead vocals are sent soaring by the harmonies of Charles Muench and Oliver Craven (and probably herself several times over). Second is the Dylanesque ‘Third Day In A Row’, a song with hints of Tom Petty in the vocal delivery and another one to add to that loop. In truth, I have trouble getting past the first few songs without wanting to go back to the beginning and start again.

Third up is ‘Sabrina’, a fiddle-led hoe-down of a song with an infectious chorus that must be a blast on stage. ‘Radio’ slows the pace down with a thoughtful metaphor about changing the station on your life and tasteful electric guitar. The next songs, ‘Where You Come From’ and ‘Fossil’ maintain that mood but each one builds imperceptibly towards a big finish – and we’re only at the mid-point of the album.

‘Hands Of Man’ features Appalachian-style fiddle and is followed by the sweet pedal-steel-led ‘Somehow’, a complete contrast, the rocking country-blues ‘Sunday Morning’ and the lyrical ‘Mississippi Pearl’. ‘All The News’ is definitely a song for our times and features organ – another first, I think – and finally we have ‘When I Die’, best described as a secular hymn and another anthem for the loop.

Magic Fire is a wonderful, uplifting record, destined to be one of my albums of the year.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website.

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: http://www.thestraybirds.com/

‘When I Die’ – live:

THE STRAY BIRDS – Best Medicine (Yep Roc YEP-2408)

Stray Birds 2Music is the best medicine I sell.” How can you resist a sentiment like that? It’s the hook of the title track of the second album from The Stray Birds, a song that also links Beatles and bones in the same sentence, and if that doesn’t strike a chord you should get back to X Factor and leave this page to the grown-ups.

The Stray Birds are Maya de Vitry, Oliver Craven, and Charlie Muench from Lancaster, Pennsylvania who have been steeped in music since their days together in the school orchestra. They have distilled their musical influences into an evocative Americana which succeeds in holding a modern point of view. The first lines of ‘San Antonio’, for example, paint a picture of dusty streets under the desert sun but it’s really about travelling and isolation – or, at least, that’s what it says to me. There are two traditional songs: a powerful ‘Pallet’ and ‘Who’s Gonna Shoe’, neither are versions I’m familiar with which adds to the interest and both serve to touch base with the band’s roots. In truth, most of their songs do that with a carefully crafted line or two. ‘The Bells’ could have come from The Band’s brown album – I can hear Levon singing it in my head.

Musically, The Stray Birds are pretty phenomenal. All three have powerful lead voices – apparently this is the first album on which double bass man Charlie sings lead – which can also slot into harmonies. Maya plays fiddle, banjo and guitar and Oliver plays fiddle, mandolin and guitar, including a rather tasty-looking resonator and the whole thing just works. I can’t help thinking that if Peter, Paul and Mary had sounded like this the history of popular would have been radically different.

If you’re in the UK you’ve missed the chance to hear them live this year but they work a heavy tour schedule and we can hope that they will be back in 2015. And get this: they actively encourage audiences to tape (or digital?) their shows. I’m up for that.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website.

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: http://www.thestraybirds.com/