The jam session is so often seen as an exclusively male activity: old-timers blowing harp out on a porch, blessed-out dudes who interrupt their mindless acoustic strumming only to flick a roach into the bonfire or tuck their hair behind their ear, bluesmen cutting heads in a roadhouse dive deep into the night. And what do we have in popular culture when women get together to play music? The lure of the Sirens’ song, dim-witted sex objects synchronizing their dance moves, the hollow sheen of adult contempo, the gender-neutrality of the classical ensemble.
This is what makes the British Columbian trio the Be Good Tanyas such a welcome delight. Added to their musical talent, beguiling femininity, insightful lyrical perspectives and a sense of humor, the Be Good Tanyas feels on Hello Love above all like a group of accomplished nomadic musicians playing in front of the fireplace in an Appalachian log cabin rather than around a campfire in Boulder, Colorado.
Tasteful but never hokey, charmingly provocative, the layered acoustic instrumentation eschews flash for texture, a rich tapestry that only becomes apparent after repeated listens. The banjo at the foundation of the Neil Young cover “For the Turnstiles” fits snugly into the orchestral indie-songwriter arena but without the distinctly male look-at-how-clever-I-am smugness. The music serves the song, not the musicians nor the songwriter.
Elsewhere, Hello Love offers straight-ahead ballads rescued from conventionality through the band’s ghostly (note, not ghastly) harmonies and intimate production (take “A Thousand Tiny Pieces,” where the mike picks up lead singer Sam Parton’s soft breathing through her nose between lines). The band members are also well-schooled in the heritage of the music they play, offering a soulfully gritty take on the old traditional “Out of the Wilderness” and turn-of-the-century spiritual “What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?”
The Be Good Tanyas’ original compositions, which make up more than half of Hello Love, hold their own seamlessly among the rearranged traditional and cover songs, but it’s perhaps the album’s final (hidden) track that best shows the scope of the players’ talent. How a cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” played and sung by three women on upright bass, acoustic guitar and banjo can prove not only the furthest thing from novelty — more like one of the most accomplished, elegant and imaginative covers of the year — is as much a marvel as the album itself.
Label: http://www.nettwerk.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/thebegoodtanyas