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THE BE GOOD TANYAS, “HELLO LOVE” (Nettwerk Productions, $15.98, www.thebegoodtanyas.com)

Canadian trio The Be Good Tanyas offer up a spot-on mix of traditional American folk and country that brings to mind a far more Southern zip code. Sam Parton, Trish Klein and Frazey Ford sing in glorious union with a vintage style that hearkens down to the deep, deep South, far from their Great White North. When harmonizing on traditional songs like “Out Of The Wilderness” and “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today”, “The Be Good Tanyas” sound like a living, breathing Alan Lomax field recording. The trio worked on “Hello Love”, their third full-length release, over the last year in Vancouver and Nashville and features contributions from their Music City friends, the band Old Crow Medicine Show. With warbling vocals akin to singer/songwriter Victoria Williams, “The Be Good Tanyas” sparkle and shine as they play banjo, mandolin, harmonica and guitar on a dozen tracks including Neil Young’s “For The Turnstiles” and Mississippi John Hurt’s “Nobody Cares For Me”. The depth of their tenderness is expressed beautifully on the gentle laments “A Thousand Tiny Pieces” and “Song For R”, while their playfulness comes courtesy of a bonus hidden track, a surprising cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry”.

THE AUTUMN DEFENSE, “THE AUTUMN DEFENSE” (Broadmoor Records, $12.99, www.theautumndefense.com)

Wilco bassist John Stirratt and partner-in-song Pat Sansone are back with their band The Autumn Defense’s second, self-titled effort…a dreamy, laid back collection of songs that call to mind ‘70s Southern California. Tracks like “We Would Never Die” and “Simple Explanation” suggest bands like “Bread” and “America”. But what elevates the music from light-hearted, pop nostalgia is the sophisticated and mindful arrangements of each track. Using a combination of strings, guitar, flute, piano, pedal steel…well, every instrument the two could imagine, “The Autumn Defense” takes care to fully form its music. But that’s what happens when talented musicians like Stirratt and Sansone, who is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, get together. Bossa nova beats carry “Canyon Arrow” and “City Bells” while “Wintergate” kicks off with a Radiohead-esque intro leading to harmonies that recall early Simon & Garfunkel. Alone, Sansone’s voice is similar to the late Jeff Buckley’s, while Stirratt’s soft, wistful sound is a combination of every man who ever picked up a microphone in the post ‘60s, hippie era. The “Autumn Defense” is a first-rate example of what dedicated musicians can produce when they’ve got the inherent talent to begin with.

ELIZABETH MITCHELL, “YOU ARE MY LITTLE BIRD” (Smithsonian Folkways, $11.98, www.youaremyflower.org)

Not since Woodie Guthrie has there been as wonderful an interpreter of songs for children than Elizabeth Mitchell. With a gentle, sunny-sweet voice, Mitchell leads a sing-a-long with husband Daniel Littleton, their young daughter Storey and assorted friends for 17 songs that will inspire and entertain. “You Are My Little Bird” is the third children’s release from this former teacher’s assistant who made the seamless move from the band “Ida” (that she started with Littleton) to becoming the pied piper for the smaller set. Mitchell is quite the musicologist having dug up an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary songs to cover. There are time-honored tunes like “Down In The Valley”, children’s songs from Guthrie (“Who’s My Pretty Baby”, “Grassy Grass Grass”) and notable B-sides from the most unlikely of bands. Who would have thought the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On” could be a ditty suitable for the playground? Mitchell puts a fragile spin on Neil Young’s “Little Wing”, renders Francoise Hardy’s “If You Listen” into a lovely lesson on nature and bounces Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” back and forth with daughter Storey like a bright rubber ball.

WILLIE NELSON, “SONGBIRD ” (Lost Highway, www.willienelson.com)

Country outlaw legend Willie Nelson takes up with alt-country “It” boy Ryan Adams for one of the most solid recordings of Nelson’s career. Backed by Adams, who’s role is both as player and producer, and Adams’s band “The Cardinals”, Nelson covers a number of songs that resembles an “indie rock” primer. The requisite tunes every musician winds up learning are here…Gram Parson’s “$1,000 Wedding”, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and even a Fleetwood Mac track, the Christine McVie-penned, title cut “Songbird”. Led by Adams’ sparkling electric guitar and “The Cardinals” chugging backbeat, Nelson effortlessly makes “Songbird” his own. Which is stating the obvious.

Willie Nelson is the rare performer who can sing anything. The fact that there are any songs left this 73 year-old hasn’t covered is what’s remarkable. With Adams as producer, Nelson’s sound is kicked up a notch and he’s game to keep pace. The volume and instrumentation are intensified and Nelson’s cadence is completely different. Gone is his long time habit of singing behind each note, which has, at times, come across as a somewhat listless performance. But on “Songbird”, Nelson is on top of every note, making for a livelier, more cohesive effort.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING:

HEALTHY WHITE BABY, “HEALTHY WHITE BABY” ($9.99, Broadmoor Records) www.healthywhitebaby.com

Taken from a line in the cult classic film “Raising Arizona”, Healthy White Baby’s bluesy, rowdy, dark music would have fit perfectly on that movie’s soundtrack. Inspired by the “Velvet Underground” and “Creedence Clearwater Revivial”, vocalist/bassist Laurie Stirratt (“Blue Mountain”), vocalist/guitarist Danny Black (“The Blacks”) and drummer Ryan Juravic hold nothing back as they rock full speed ahead and do it better than any of their hipster contemporaries. Along with the down and dirty rock that will have you moving, Black’s soulful vocals on a cover of Bill Monroe’s “Body And Soul” will break your heart.

MARIE ANTOINETTE: MUSIC FROM THE MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK ($18.99, The Verve Music Group, www.sony.com/marie)

It’s a non-stop party when “Siouxsie and The Banshees”, “Gang of Four” and “Bow Wow Wow” are invited to the festivities. There’s just something about nihilistic, new wave lyrics over a great backbeat that set the perfect mood for the heady, partying lifestyle of a doomed 18th century French queen! Director Sophia Coppola chose these and other ‘80s bands for the soundtrack to her film “Marie Antoinette”, along with “The Strokes”, “Aphex Twin”, “Air and Windsor For The Derby”. A few classical pieces including Vivaldi’s “Concerto in G” are featured on this 2-disc set, making it one of the most exquisitely beautiful and cool song collections you’ll ever hear.

POST-HOLIDAY NOTABLES:

THE KLEZMATICS: WOODY GUTHRIE’S HAPPY JOYOUS HANUKKAH (Jewish Music Group, $17.98, www.klezmatics.com)

Few people know that Woody Guthrie wrote Hanukkah songs. The folk pioneer’s second wife was Jewish and his mother-in-law was the famed Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt. Guthrie absorbed the culture of his new family and wrote and recorded “Happy Joyous Hanukkah”. His daughter Nora, the present-day keeper of Guthrie’s work, handed these holiday tunes for a reworking to The Klezmatics, the renowned, traditional klezmer band. The result is a lovely celebration of Hanukkah featuring Eastern European music, Guthrie’s familiar, childlike play on words (“Latkes and goody things all over town, it’s Honeyky Hanukah time”) and the stand out track “Hanuka’s Flame”, a folksy wintry sing-a-long that will warm your heart.

SUFJAN STEVENS, “SONGS FOR CHRISTMAS” (Asthmatic Kitty, $19.00, www.sufjanstevens.com)

In order to enjoy the yuletide more (and because he is somewhat of a masochist), indie wonder boy Sufjan Stevens has recorded a holiday EP every year since 1991. And, this season, he has gathered them all in one convenient 42-song package. The “Songs For Christmas” box set is such a rich, musical delight that you should feel free to toss out your entire holiday CD collection and replace it with this one. Stevens, who brought us the critically acclaimed albums “Michigan” and “Songs For Illinoise”, has reworked classics like “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night” and created new tunes like “Get Behind Me Santa”, wherein Stevens reminds us that Christmas is “a fact of life whether you like it or not, so put your hands together and give it a shot!”

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 67 - September 3000
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