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The Stray Birds

Let It Pass – 2018 (Yep Roc)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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This is the swan song for The Stray Birds unfortunately, but at least they are parting with another musical triumph. This record barely got made as founding members, fiddler/guitarist/banjoist/vocalist Maya de Vitry and fiddle/guitarist/mandolist/vocalist Oliver Craven fought through an ending romantic relationship while deciding to collaborate musically. That decision was enough to get "Let It Pass" done, but recently the band announced that they were calling it quits.

The Stray Birds are a trio that also includes bassist/banjoist/vocalist Charlie Muensch. The three members created this album totally from scratch, developed in nearly a month. Each member contributed melodies and verses, but it mostly was done collectively as they built trust, dealt with frustration and rejoiced in the moments of creative breakthroughs.

Rather than shy away from the strife and uncertainty they were facing personally, they confronted it directly. The ecstatic harmonies on the opener, "The Bridge" signal a cry for empathy and compromise with lyrics like these - "Meet me on the bridge/We can watch the water/Meet me on the bridge/Water running under." On another level, one could read the current political landscape of a divided country into the lyrics.

"In My Time" is a gentle tune leading into the electric guitar driven "Quicksilver Highway." "Light As A Fire" carries a lilting melody with de Vitry and Craven trading verses on the themes of growth and healing. Perhaps the centerpiece, a showcase for de Vitry's lovely, ethereal voice, is "Better Than Bone," where she emotionally delivers these lines, "I'll be as strong as all the love I've ever known/All the love I've ever shown."

The band is versatile, often changing grooves and tempos as evidenced by the raw, rocking "Miles and Miles" to de Vitry's acoustic lament "Nothing to Say About It Now" to Craven's ballad, as if in response "If Time Is Not Enough," that carries an ebullient chorus with all three singing. The tempo picks up for a rollicking joyous "Truth in the Night," and de Vitry returns for another gorgeous ballad in "Sleep With My Window Open." "Long Table" is a singalong, celebratory conclusion to the album, featuring Craven's lead and the band's marvelous harmonies.

It's a shame that we won't be hearing this talented band continue. They are exiting strongly and in classy fashion.