The Be Good Tanyas
Nettwerk Productions 2003
****1/2 (out of 5)
This is porch-sitting, popsicle-licking rocking chair music, recommended to me by Megan (daughter of Cathy from last week's sound journal). Megan is 14 years old and as musically inclined as her Mom and Dad. She's also a writer and a poet. Megan enjoys "guitar-driven melodies and songs that are very strong lyrically." She told me, "I always find that you can judge how good an artist truly is by how 'real' their lyrics seem; if I can relate to a song I find that I can enjoy it a lot, even if, musically, it is rather simple." Megan's favourite artists include Jewel (but not her latest album) Kathleen Edwards, Leonard Cohen, Natalie Merchant, Dar Williams, The Wailin' Jennys, Josh Ritter, Ani Difranco, Tracy Chapman, Sixpence None the Richer, Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, Vanessa Carlton and Sarah Harmer. She discovered The Be Good Tanyas Chinatown when she was looking for a CD that included "House of the Rising Sun." (Megan specifies, "the original version, not the Bob Dylan-ized one.") She found this CD in her parents' collection and, she admits, "it's been in my room ever since." She says The Be Good Tanyas "make banjo sound cool!"
The Be Good Tanyas are Frazey Ford, Samantha Parton and Trish Klein. Here's their offical website. They met in tree planting camps and later again at the Kooteny Music School. Home is Vancouver. Chinatown is their second album. It's a mix of traditional songs and original works, classified as "contemporary folk," which I think means traditional sound and style with contemporary subject matter and new interpretations of classics. They all sing, and among them they play guitar (acoustic and electric), mandolin, harmonica, ukulele, piano and cool banjo. They are supported by Andrew Burden on double bass and Glenn "Ike" Eidsness on drums. Their sound is simple and direct, quiet drums, hardly noticeable electric guitar, no big production sound. This is definitely girlie music, mostly about love, hurt, death (including a sweet and sincere tribute to Samantha Parton's dog, who she loved very much). When I first listened to it, I was reminded of the music my parents played for me and my sister and brother when we were kids, Peter Paul and Mary, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger are the ones I can recall. I fell in love with a song written by lead singer, Frazey Ford, called "ship out on the sea." Something about these lyrics just caught my heart and made me sing along with a big goofy grin,
plant me in the garden
don't you let me roam
cuz love is a feeling like a warm dark stone
There's also a grim but excellent tune called "waiting around to die" by t. van zandt, and the interpretation of "House of the Rising Sun" is pretty cool too.
I did have one reservation, something I wasn't sure about, so I emailed Megan with my question:
Do you know why Frazey Ford sings kind of "blurry?" Is it part of the style that the group has consciously adopted? Is this a progressive folk convention? or does she have a speech impediment? I'm not sure what to think about it. My evil sense of humour keeps picturing a bunch of young women fans at a BGTs concert, all standing and swaying and singing along with their mouths full of graham crackers and honey.
Actually I don't know why she sings that way...I imagine that it's a method of expressing passion in her singing without resorting to Mariah Carey type vocal acrobatics (OOoooo!!! Aaaa-oooahhh!!!!! Ya-Yaaaaaaa!!!). However that's just a guess. I should hope that she does realize that's how she sounds; it would be rather embarrassing for her otherwise.
Thus my rating of only 4 1/2 out of 5 stars for an otherwise totally loveable album. I dithered about whether the mumbly singing is charming or annoying. I had to decide on the latter. I feel like a fuss-budgetty mom, saying "You'd be so pretty if you'd just get that hair out of your face," but that's my perogative. I would enjoy these lovely songs more if I didn't have to read the lyrics to find out what's being sung. It's not like that for every word of every song, but for enough that it bugged me.
This one is definitely a keeper. I will be visiting the music store again to buy a copy. Thank you Megan for introducing me to the Be Good Tanyas! Next week - Mom and Dad recommend Mozart.
Question: Wuzz thatcha say'n?
mompoet - ears full of graham crackers and honey and happy cool banjo