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The Stray Birds - Magic Fire
The Stray Birds - Magic Fire
Photos by:  Jud Conway  [View More]
CD Review by Jud Conway on 7/5/2016   

Pennsylvania native/Nashville-based Americana stalwarts, The Stray Birds, follow up their critically-acclaimed 2014 release, Best Medicine, with the dynamic Magic Fire, due out August 19th, on Yep Roc Records.

Magic Fire expands the band’s rich musical palate by adding drums, organ, pedal steel, piano, and other ancillary instrumentation to the core trio’s acoustic guitar/fiddle/upright bass formula while maintaining and finessing their signature vocal harmonies, plaintive melodies and poignant songwriting. The Stray Birds recorded the album in upstate New York with legendary producer/musician Larry Campbell (Levon Helm Band, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, et. al.) and Grammy award-winning Engineer and mixer Justin Guip (Levon Helm Band).  The record prominently features guest drummer/percussionist Shane Leonard (Kalispell, Field Report, Sara and Sean Watkins, Ben Sollee) and boasts guest appearances by New York experimental jazz-rock musician Marco Benevento and Abigail Washburn collaborator Kai Welch (The Greencards).

“Shining in the Distance,” the first single culled from ten days of sessions with Campbell, opens Magic Fire with a strong statement and a clear indication that the band’s latest effort maintains the strong momentum and flow of Best Medicine. Co-written by Stray Birds vocalist/acoustic guitarist/fiddler Maya de Vitry with fellow Americana artist Lindsay Lou (Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys), this gospel song for the modern era introduces listeners to the band’s fuller sound, replete with a chorus that lingers, as it asks, “Oh, how can we keep from singing? Is it not time, is it not time?”

Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Oliver Craven’s “Third Day in Row” is arguably one of the catchiest titles on Magic Fire. The song blossoms under Campbell’s production, sounding like a lost gem from Tom Petty’s Wildflowers.  His lovelorn, pedal steel-drenched, “Somehow,” presents like an early 1960’s Wurlitzer spinning post-Cadence Everly Brothers in a darkened barroom.

All three Stray Birds contributed original material to Magic Fire, including vocalist/upright bassist Charles Muench, who’s “Where You Come From” marks his debut as a primary songwriter. In this percussion-driven number, Muench reimagines trivial fan questions as colossal existential quandaries.

Foot-stomper “Sabrina” recalls Elite Hotel-era Emmylou Harris. This live staple and fan favorite was first introduced on the Best Medicine Tour. Essentially, the track is a band co-write born out of an impromptu gathering in the green-room of Baltimore’s 8x10 Club that included the song’s namesake.  

Magic Fire closes on a high note with the stellar “When I Die.” The album’s swan song commences with a-cappella vocals that could give goosebumps to Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith.  The Stray Birds, who have been performing this number in live shows dating back to 2014, often ask tour-mates like Jordie Lane, Mandolin Orange, and Miss Tess to contribute original verses and join them onstage for the number. In this spirit of camaraderie and folk balladry, Shane Leonard contributes a verse of his own to the Magic Fire recording.

Kindweb caught up with the trio in Harrisburg, PA, on the final stop of their acoustic Solstice Roadshow Tour with indie-folk group the Evie Ladin Band.  Before launching into a diverse set that included four tracks from the forthcoming Magic Fire, de Vitry spoke to Kindweb and explained that the group is still reveling in the experience of working with Larry Campbell, an individual so closely affiliated with the rich Woodstock, NY, music scene and historic acts like The Band. When we asked if the Stray Birds were familiar with Levon Helm’s daughter, Amy Helm’s band, Ollabelle (another Americana outfit produced by Larry Campbell) de Vitry brightened up and stated that, “Ollabelle was the template for what we wanted to do on Magic Fire.” She shared that the Stray Birds will hit the road in August with fellow Nashville-by-way-of-Pennsylvania musician, Dominic Billett (Toy Soldiers, Coin Purse, Perkasie), on drums. De Vitry commented that the Stray Birds look forward to sharing the new material and exploring full-band arrangements, something they have only previously attempted on a few West Coast test-gigs with Shane Leonard.

Key Tracks:     “Shining in the Distance”

                        “Third Day in a Row”


                        “When I Die”

The photos below are from a concert at the Abbey Bar; Harrisburg, PA on 6/24/2016

Photos by: Jud Conway  
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