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The Stray Birds

Best Medicine – 2014 (Yep Roc)

Reviewed by Sam Gazdziak

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"Best Medicine," the opening song and title track to The Stray Birds' album, is a beautiful, touching ode to music and the record stores that still survive in this digital age. With a few sly musical references in the lyrics ("Doctor tells me he can hear the beetles in my bones...") and some gorgeous three-part harmonies, it's one of the best and most heartfelt songs of the year.

Even after leading off with that kind of highlight, the rest does not disappoint. Outside of a couple of covers (the traditional "Pallet" and "Who's Gonna Shoe"), "Best Medicine" features original songs that float somewhere in the vicinity of contemporary bluegrass, folk and Americana. This Pennsylvania trio may be difficult to classify, but the quality is easy to appreciate regardless of your musical preferences.

While all three members take their turn at lead vocals, the most distinctive and powerful voice belongs to Maya de Vitry, who also plays the guitar, fiddle, banjo and piano. Somewhat reminiscent of Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, de Vitry may not have a typical bluegrass voice, but she blends in perfectly with her bandmates (Oliver Craven on guitar, fiddle and mandolin and Charlie Muench on bass and banjo). Their harmonies on songs like "Might Rain" and "Feathers & Bone" help make them so memorable.

The group's original songs are so strong, in fact, that they make the two aforementioned covers rather unnecessary. Given the choice of another version of "Pallet" or another original the quality of Craven's "Stolen Love" or de Vitry's "Black Hills," bring on the all-new music.