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The Be Good Tanyas | Chinatown (EMI)
The venerable CWAS was just one of several voices to hail the debut by this new, female, folk music trio from Vancouver as a noble entrĂ©e.  The overall feel of that album was carefree and light.  The second record will not be your album of choice before you go out dancing but it will sustain a satisfying evening in when the cold outside feels like a Canadian winter and the rock on the radio irritates with it's sheer banality.

The opener It's Not Happening felt a little like standing in the foyer waiting for the main event to commence. With track two Waiting Around To Die the mood of this rather dark album is set.  Darker than the last record indeed but otherwise it's the Tanyas: they take solace from life's trials with those lovely, almost freeform harmonies which are every bit as unique and ethereal as greats like Low and our own Hank Dogs.  To these ears all Tanyas music sounds like spontaneous outbursts of songs that they know only quite well rather than tunes rehearsed and polished until there's no chance of happy accidents.  Track 3 is more burnished gold in the melodic shape of the grim Junkie Song; you can believe Chet Baker's ghost is haunting proceedings when the trumpet accompaniment kicks in. Great. At this point I began to wish I could understand more than five words in ten and had to remind myself that they are singing in (some kind of) English and that they are probably articulate middle class young LADIES and not slightly drunken, mountain forest she-hillbillies in bereavement given to mumbling.  Don't worry, its all part of the charm.  Several traditional folk songs have been considerably deconstructed to impressive effect, notably on In My Time Of Dying which sways and rocks along gently to console the narrator in her pain rather than trudge along in misery. House Of The Rising Sun is given a new, funky (at least in a folksy/country Tanyas way) arrangement where new rhythm meant new phrasing meant new melody to hugely moving effect. Only the happy-go-lucky sing-along Reuben hits the sweet and jolly mood of songs like The Littlest Birds from the earlier 'Blue Horse' album.

Across 'Chinatown's entirety guitars, mandolins and banjos pluck away inventively to their and our hearts content but for me it was the sparse, carefully chosen bass parts that best created the desired mood.  This little record gets better with every play and is sure to be among the year's finest.

Stephen Ridley
January-February 2003

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