The Be Good Tanyas,
Blue Horse
(Nettwerk, 2001)

The Be Good Tanyas debut album Blue Horse haunts me almost two years after I first fell in love with the cover and then the music. According to their website, the Be Goods, as I am told they are affectionately called in Canada, recorded this album while temporarily inhabiting a rustic cabin in the woods surrounding Vancouver, BC. There are 12 songs on the album, and each one is a gem in its own right, embodying a spirit that hasn't moved me like this since Prince and his Purple Rain album -- but trust me, there is no other comparison to be had there.

Frazey Ford's lazy, sultry and sometimes drunken-sounding singing is complemented by the smooth higher vocals of Sam Parton and Trish Klein. Several guest musicians, such as Jolie Holland, Paul Clifford and Mathieu Gagne, appear on this album, rendering it delicious, inspiring and, yes, compelling. I have decided to call their style femino-centric old-time/new-time, combining the concept of "women-centered" and some type of current adaptation of old-time music. To further explain, the the Be Goods have adopted, borrowed and written songs reminiscent of traditional deep Southern (including Appalachian) music and ingeniously interwove this style with a feminist and/ or liberatory flair. This flair is subtle at times, direct at others and doesn't strike me as critical or political ... but it does strike me as present through every song in a deep, reflective, soulful or exciting sort of way.

The first song, "The Littlest Birds," is my hands-down favorite, and seems to also be a favorite of their audiences and those in the website guestbook. It starts out, "Well, I feel like an old hobo, I'm sad, lonesome and blue...." The singing and rhythm are captivating and the instruments in this song are barely noticeable. But, more so, I am interested in why this trio of young women from Vancouver (including their guest, San Francisco's Jolie Holland, who also co-wrote the song) is singing from the perspective of an old-time hobo who can't quit wanderin' and ramblin' after all these years.

The other songs on the album cover various themes including a dissolved love relationship, Creole culture and (what I interpret as) lesbian possibilities, and Frazey's song for her mama. On top of the basic acoustic guitar, mandolin and banjo, the electric fiddling is haunting, and electric guitar, double bass, acoustic fiddling and washboard are just downhome and awesome.

In addition to covering "Cold, Rain and Snow," the Be Goods also do a lovely, raw version of "Oh Susanna!" Although there are several cover tunes on this album, they include original songs as well, using fantasy, storytelling and their own experiences as an avenue to women's liberation and for embracing personal liberation. Whether they see it that way or not, I'll never know. Judging by their lyrics and stylistic roots, I believe the songs are intended for those interested in exploring how a "culture of music" that has historically not generally been interested in liberating women (although I could be wrong about that) can be transformed into an incredible source of empowerment and inspiration for anyone. This album is highly recommended if you are into the feel of Appalachian roots music with a contemporary twist and appreciate the femino-centric.

Though they won't be touring for a while because Frazey gave birth last year and they are busy creating and learning new songs, one can be satisfied with their subsequent album, Chinatown, and Trish's other band, Po' Girl.

- Rambles
written by Fern Gilkerson
published 15 May 2004

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