The Be Good Tanyas
Record Review by Adam McKibbin
Warm and unobjectionable, the third Be Good Tanyas album is more of a continuation than a progression; their methodology has changed—Hello Love was culled from a more spontaneous recording session that involved more writing on the fly—but their countrified roots are still firmly planted. Like Amos Lee, they’re established a fairly wide name for themselves, but are still just enough left-of-mainstream to retain some cred when you put it on at dinner parties or lazy summer BBQs. And, like Lee, they’re safe bets to please—or at least placate—all but the most narrow-minded of your friends.
Hello Love fires its strongest shots right out of the gates. “Human Thing” is a shuffling and sensual number with a unforced but deeply felt vocal from Frazey Ford. Like their confederates Old Crow Medicine Show, who turn up on Sam Parton’s “A Little Blues” and “Crow Waltz,” the Tanyas benefit greatly from not having to over-rely on a single member. They have a knack for knowing when to stay solo and when to have all the ladies come in and harmonize. With all that said, it’s generally Ford who injects the most electricity into the mix; Hello Love does have a tendency, particularly later in its runtime, to get a little slow and same-sounding.
Ford, Parton and Trish Klein are no stranger to the blues, and they don’t just flirt with it in their music; they live it in their songs, too. Hello Love continues to tap into some darker places of inspiration, especially on Parton’s somber “Song for R.”
The trio reportedly had a lot of songs to choose from after finishing the session for this album, but it doesn’t seem that they exhausted themselves as songwriters; Parton and Ford contribute a couple tracks each, the three Tanyas co-wrote another (“Ootischenia”), but then they largely look outside the band for inspiration. The results there are mixed. Their successful stab at fellow Canadian Neil Young, “For the Turnstiles”—tricky territory, to be sure—is the second track, and keeps the energy up, with an appropriately agitated lead vocal and Parton’s lively banjo playing. Old-timey fare like “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today” feels too predictable by comparison; it’s all still very pretty and in its right place, but the arrangements could have been a little riskier and/or zestier. The cover of “When Doves Cry” struck some critics as a bracingly fresh take, but it’s hard to separate it from the somewhat similar—but superior—treatment by Ani DiFranco. It’s a hidden track, though, so it doesn’t warrant too much carping. It’s playful and, if anything, the Tanyas could stand to amplify that element on their fourth record; lite ballads are no place for personalities, and this trio is surely at their best when they’re letting all of ‘em combine and shine.
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