It's a miserable rain soaked afternoon on Merseyside but for about 54 minutes I've been idling down dusty trails, rocking in a wicker chair on a back porch and basking in stories told by three ageless raconteurs from a time both eternally past and present.
The Be Good Tanyas are Frazey Ford, Samantha Parton and Trish Klein and they apparently got together in a shack in Vancouver without the usual amenities but loaded with guitars, fiddles, the odd banjo and string bass. The brought their voices and songs that are as old as the hills and have made them sound as fresh as anything I've heard in a long time, in a bluesy/country/old timey way. The voices are in your ear, whispering and bidding you follow them down to the corner store to witness a dream where no matter how hard the girl waves the guy just doesn't want to know. So goes the story in 'Only In The Past', a languorous mix of a voice, acoustic guitar, banjo and some breath stopping harmonies. You can feel the sun of an afternoon on your face and taste the bitter-sweetness of a time long gone, even though you probably weren't even there.
This recording is intimate and I'd swear you can hear the floorboards creak as these three chanteuses and their augmentations re-create a restless sense of the road and its pull. 'The Littlest Birds' best exemplifies this and even borrows from Syd Barrett's 'Jugband Blues'. In an instant one psychedelic traveller meets the gentle swagger of an old hobo going the other way.
They also take some traditional songs and breath new life into them. 'The Lakes of Pontchartrain' is one example and features the unique vocals of Jolie Holland, one of the 'very special guests' who contributes fiddle and guitar throughout. Another trad song, 'The Coo Coo Bird' has been done to death elsewhere but, again, sounds fresh. In my ignorance I thought 'Oh Susanna' was a traditional song too. It isn't but should be and they give it a lazily swinging workout with banjo and fiddle and some of the most natural and unforced vocal harmonies I've heard. That's what I like most about this cd. Everything they do sounds so effortless and pure. Nothing is overdone.
Maybe one day their own songs will have become part of the tradition and will become refreshed by newer voices. I can easily see that happening because they have a timeless quality. And if they can transform, even temporarily, stormy, sodden Southport into a warm Mid West landscape then I'm going to keep on playing this.
© Paul Donnelly 2002