THE STRAY BIRDS
2012 - Self Released
This is the debut album by a talented trio who mix folk, country and even a little alt. country into an album of eleven exceptional songs. The three members have been friends for a long time, having been raised around the farming communities of Pennsylvania and it shows with the tightness of their playing and the excellent harmonies.
The band consists of Maya De Vitry on vocals, guitar, fiddle and banjo, Oliver Craven, vocals, guitars, fiddle and Charles Muench on vocals, bass and banjo. In the case of the songwriting, six are by Maya De Vitry and five by Oliver Craven with both singing lead on their own songs and two very fine vocalists they are as well. Added to this are some tremendous three part harmonies, all in all giving a lovely variety to the feel of the album. The songwriting by both is of the highest quality as are the vocals and three part harmonies, with the instrumentation always sparse and played with a large amount of skill by all three, allowing the tremendous songs plenty of breathing space. In many ways the two vocalists are so good that you can’t help but wonder if, with a few more songs each, there couldn’t have been two exceptional solo albums here. There is certainly the quality but they do
come across with repeated listens as having a real band ethic that leaves the listener with the feeling of ‘all being in this together.’ Certainly the trio are bursting with talent and if there is any justice at all in the music world they will very soon rise into the upper echelons of ‘country music.’
Despite the beauty of these songs that rarely reach mid tempo there is a strong diversity within the recording and absolutely no weak links. The album gets under way with Maya’s Dream In Blue, with a lovely melodic banjo intro followed by her gorgeous feminine vocal on a slow moody ballad, soon joined by the mournful fiddle that provides a nice contrast to her lovely light vocal. This is followed by Oliver Craven’s excellent 25 To Life, a tale of how to waste a life! It starts with an evocative fiddle intro with the banjo and Oliver’s excellent lead vocal soon joining in. With a voice and style that is comparable to some of the best in the alt. country field he brings a new slant to this stylistically ‘old folk music’ on a tremendous tale of the outlaw life and the price that is eventually payable. There is a lovely resophonic guitar sound on Maya’s slow moody Railroad Man with her gorgeous evocative vocal getting the best out of a song that could just as easily have been written and performed by artists such as Gillian Welch or Iris Dement. No Part Of Nothing has Oliver on lead vocal and includes an almost jazzy feel with the way he twists his vocals on a song about a dissolute lifestyle, whilst My Brother’s Hill is a terrific harmony duet that evokes an old timey atmosphere, with the banjo and fiddle driving the song on and of course the usual excellent harmonies. The instrumental track, written by Maya, Give That Wildman A Knife/Bellows Fall/Waitin’ On A Hannah is in many ways a brave move, consisting of just Maya and Oliver playing a powerful fiddle duet that succeeds incredibly well thanks to their virtuosic skills and ability to create an atmosphere.
There can have been very few debut albums that exhibit such a confidence and variety of subject matter within what is probably best termed ‘folk music.’ The fact that there are two songwriters, one male, one female, singing lead on their own fairly even split of songs must in many ways make life difficult. That they manage to overcome this is testament to the band ethic and the quite extraordinary talent within this trio, for whom
commercial success may not be too far away.