XPN Welcomes" The Stray Birds w/ Tess& The Talkbacks
XPN Welcomes The Stray Birds
Magic Fire is an album of firsts for The Stray Birds: their first with an outside producer, their first with venerable guest musicians, and their first truly collaborative songwriting effort. More importantly, perhaps, it's an album of mosts: the most exciting and engaging music they've ever composed paired with their most outspoken and insightful lyrics yet.
Magic Fire builds on the success of The Stray Birds' 2014 Yep Roc debut, Best Medicine, which was hailed by NPR's World Caféfor its "strong harmonies and sharp songwriting" and debuted at #2 on the Billboard Bluegrass chart. Guitar World praised their "heartfelt creativity," while the Philadelphia City Paper called the band "stunning," and Mountain Stage applauded their singular ability to "successfully draw on the rich traditions of American folk music while still sounding modern." It was that unique formula that first brought them national attention and fueled their breakout in 2012, when their self-titled/self-released debut landed amongst NPR's Top Ten Folk/Americana Albums of the Year and earned them major festival performances everywhere from MerleFest to Scotland's Celtic Connections.
When it came time to record Magic Fire, The Stray Birds knew they were ready to take an ambitious step. They retreated to Milan Hill, New York, a small town outside of Woodstock in the Hudson River Valley, and teamed up with Larry Campbell. The three-time GRAMMY Award-winning producer (best known for his work with luminaries like Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Paul Simon, and Willie Nelson) enlisted his preferred engineer, Justin Guip (another three-time GRAMMY Award-winner who worked closely with the late Helm), and the group spent ten days together joyously exploring and creating the music that would become Magic Fire.
Though a few of the new songs had been on stage in the past year, we granted most of these songs the opportunity to come to life right there in the studio, says Maya de Vitry, who splits her time between fiddle, guitar, and banjo in addition to singing. It was intoxicating to go to this place of focus with songs that still felt so fresh and free.
"We'd never worked with anyone other than just an engineer in the studio before," adds Charles Muench, who plays banjo and bass in addition to contributing to the group's lush three-part vocal harmonies. "Larry was on our short list of people who we wanted to work with, and it was clear after a few conversations with him that nothing was off limits for this record. He offered up not only his production and direction, but also his playing to any and all of the music.
"We wanted some direction this time," continues Oliver Craven, who plays fiddle, guitar, and mandolin in addition to singing. "We wanted somebody outside of the music with great taste and vibe who could lend a critically unbiased and impartial ear to what we were doing. Larry is very relaxed and works on feel. I dont think I saw him write down one word the whole time.
Before the band settled into the studio, they headed back to their roots, returning to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There they spent two intensive days of pre-production with another new collaborator, drummer Shane Leonard.
"We started out as a trio of people who all grew up together in Lancaster County and had known each other for a very long time," says de Vitry. "But it was a slow and deliberate musical courtship, and it took years and a lot of patience for us to actually come together and get into a car and start touring and recording as a trio. When we met Shane, I can't even say that we played music together for more than a song or two before we asked him to join us to make a record. We all instinctually knew he was right for us."
That kind of chemistry can't be bought, and it's readily apparent on tracks like "Third Day In A Row," a laid-back slice of infectious Americana that showcases the band's rich harmonies, and "Fossil," which they performed at Leonard's wedding before they'd ever even recorded it. In addition to the newest Bird's contributions (which stretch beyond percussion throughout the record), the album demonstrates the group's remarkable growth as songwriters and performers, with countless nights on the road across the US and Europe sharpening their senses and honing their keen understanding of each other's strengths.
"There's more collaboration than ever before in the band," says Craven. "This record is unlike any of our previous releases in that it has songs written by the two or three or four of us together. I think we've realized that in this band, we're surrounded by people we trust and who inspire us, so if we want something to be as good as it can be, it's in all of our interests to share in that collaboration."
The fruits of their teamwork come to full blossom on highlights like the toe-tapping, fiddle-led "Sabrina," penned on-the-spot, as a trio in the presence of the titular subject, and "Hands Of Man," a dark, Appalachian-influenced tune completed during the recording sessions in Milan Hill. "Where You Come From" marks Muench's first complete songwriting contribution to an album, while "Shining In The Distance" is a collaboration with fellow songwriter Lindsay Lou that grew out of Maya and Oliver's move to Nashville, and "When I Die" features a verse written by Leonard (live versions of the song have included a variety of additional verses contributed by peers and tourmates like Mandolin Orange, Miss Tess, Jordie Lane, and Cahalen Morrison & Eli West).
Despite the new, more open approach to writing, the songs are as focused and incisive as ever. "All The News" is a reminder of just how lucky so many of us are to live in relative comfort and safety, while the groovy "Sunday Morning" is a call to action, as Craven sings, "You can shout for change and worry about the state of the world / But it's gonna take a little more than praying on a Sunday morning."
"I dont think that this record is overtly politicized," says Craven, "but there is an agreed perspective within the band, and I think that turns up throughout the album. It's not only our opportunity but our obligation to do what we can to help the people around us as best we can.
This collection of songs honors what connects us as humans," Maya adds. "Being human can be a fast-paced, detached experience at times. I feel like part of what we do as musicians is rewire our connections to each other, and perhaps our connections to our collective memory or dream."
For The Stray Birds, those connections come from filling hearts with love and joy and light each night onstage, setting a Magic Fire and watching it spread everywhere they go. The most exciting thing about an album of firsts? It means The Stray Birds are just getting started.
Tess& The Talkbacks
Miss Tess & The Talkbacks is a grooving rock n roll band rooted in swinging blues, throwback country, and rockabilly music from Brooklyn, NY. Front and center in this tight quartet is soulful songwriter and skilled guitarist, Miss Tess. She possesses a voice that is, "alternately seductive and sexy, and is a pure joy to listen to (Pop Matters).
With multiple US tours and several releases under their belts, Miss Tess & The Talkbacks has proven to be one of the most exciting acts on the blossoming Americana scene. The band, with its self-described modern vintage sound, is currently in the studio writing and recording material for their tenth album. A sneak preview of two of their new tunes will be released as a 45 single and download in spring, 2015 on Signature Sounds Recordings (Lake Street Dive, Eilen Jewell, Chris Smither, Josh Ritter, Erin McKeown).
Their most recent release, The Love I Have For You, (2013 Signature Sounds Recordings) features six covers and one new original, and pays homage to some of Tesss favorite singers and songwriters including Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Neil Young, Ted Hawkins, Randy Newman, and Hank Williams. The album was produced by Miss Tess & The Talkbacks and recorded and mixed by Devin Greenwood (Norah Jones, Anais Mitchell, Amos Lee) in Brooklyn, NY. Each artist we covered has held a special place in the history of our lives, as well as in the history of American music, says Miss Tess. These folks are all musical giants who dedicated their lives to music, and for that I hold them in the highest esteem.
Miss Tess & the Talkbacks have won fans from New York City to New Orleans and Alabama to Alaska. Over the years they have shared the stage with the likes of Lake Street Dive, NRBQ, The Holmes Brothers, Eilen Jewell, and Todd Snider. The band has graced stages at Blissfest, Cayamo, Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Floydfest, Ossippee Valley Music Festival, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, Burlington Jazz Festival, and Green River Festival. Miss Tesss music has been heard from coast to coast on taste maker programs such as XM/Siriuss The Loft, NPRs Folk Alley, Santa Cruzs KPIG and Bostons WUMB.
Miss Tess grew up in Maryland, where she took piano lessons at an early age. She went to college in Baltimore, intending to be a graphic artist. While there, she dabbled in guitar, but it wasn't until the end of her studies that she began taking it seriously. Once she became more confident as a musician, she started studying jazz and writing songs. Miss Tess then put together her first band. Having grown up listening to her parents' bands playing big band swing, folk, country and dixieland music, these rootsy styles came naturally to her.
After a move to Boston, Miss Tess took a few classes at Berklee College of Music and formed a new band with a few fellow jazz students. Miss Tess quickly established herself as a songwriter and performer in the storied Boston music scene, playing regularly at local clubs. Over four years she won a Boston Music Award, and was nominated several other times in the Folk and Jazz categories. Miss Tess later moved to Brooklyn and has been there for almost five years. She has since developed her sound to include more classic country, rockabilly and vintage rock 'n' roll.
"Nashville meets Brooklyn...country chic." -- Village Voice
"I dont know of anyone else right now touring in the Americana scene that has such an eclectic, jazzy, old school and interesting vibe. Theres an authenticity present in Miss Tess music. It is not contrived, not too far a stretch for the skeptical imagination. She is real. And she is rare." -- No Depression
24 East King St
Lancaster, PA 17602
|Kid Friendly: No|
|Dog Friendly: No|
|Wheelchair Accessible: Yes!|