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The Be Good Tanyas | Blue Horse (Independent)
There is no doubt about it; someone is putting something into the Vancouver water supply. I don't what it is, but it appears to be of benefit, such is the wave of creativity from the city that threatens to engulf. Blue Horse is the third brilliant debut out of Vancouver in less than a year, and another reason we should be taking more notice of the place than we are of New York. Whilst Big Apple brats are gnawing at the carcass of the CBGB's era, their north-western mountain cuzzins are adding spice to a rich campfire stew of traditional recipe. Blue Horse is a thoroughbred on just about every level. Between them, Frazey Ford, Samantha Parton and Trish Klein play guitars, banjo and mandolin, all with an assured and natural spark. But it is their engaging voices, either individually, or collectively in sumptuous harmony, that really captivate. There is both vulnerability and sass; they trill and warble and cry and sneer. These gals are getting a lot of attention in their 'hood, and wider acclaim is seemingly assured, but the whole being the sum and that, it won't be for the voices alone. Naturally, they dominate, but this is musically gorgeous aside. A forceful, pristine production (by the band and one known as Futcher) gives space for every element to breathe, creating a live, intimate feel. Of the Tanyas, Klein's breezy banjo particularly impresses, but drummer Paul Clifford's crisp and light delivery, and Andrew Burdens soft, rubbery double bass give their companions a solid spine on which to build. Of the 12 tracks, 5 are traditional or a cover and the remainder self-penned, but they're all amazing. Broken Telephone is a treasure, featuring Ford's high-lonesome slur, and there's a rush when the band lurches in midway. There's a raw stab at The Lakes of Ponchartrain, so beloved of Nanci Griffith, a key figure in the gradual acceptance of country as cool. The loping Only In The Past, with its electrifying harmonies and filigree banjo, is sublime. The Coo Coo Bird shuffles along on train-beat drums and walking bass, gypsy violin piercing the canvas as the girls layer mystical musings above. They also take Stephen Foster's Oh Susannah (it all dovetails, you see) and transform it from a thigh-slapper to a bedside lament from Mama. It's beautiful, and does justice to the pure melody of the traditional rendition. This is a deeply rewarding roots listen, and as good an album made by country women as Dolly, Linda and Emmylou's first Trio project. (And of course, there's a Parton present!).But where that was of the honky-tonks and Tennessee stages, Blue Horse is of the punk clubs and coffee shops. To cap it all, they look great â?? imagine an Appalachian Sleater-Kinney. I've not mentioned the lyrics; as difficult as I normally find restraint in such circumstances, I thought I'd leave them to be discovered by the aroused. They're not Wordsworth, but have a hanky ready. So as I said, this succeeds on all areas of the pitch, and is a veritable goal machine in my curious vernacular.
CWAS #8 - Summer 2001