Magic 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.
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‘When I Die’ – live: