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

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