When The Stray Birds take the stage, the spotlight is shared. Singing into a single microphone, three joyfully blended voices hover above the raw resonance of wood and strings. The Stray Birds are a trio of friends, raised on music within a few miles of farmland from each other in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Songwriters Maya de Vitry and Oliver Craven serve as the creative flames of this group, but it is the trio’s dynamic vocals, collective arranging process, and three-part harmonies that send each song soaring. The arrangements breathe with the subtlety and nuance that introduced their sound on the Borderland EP (2010), but The Stray Birds have both refined and widened their sound on this wholly original debut full-length album. - John Starling (founding member of The Seldom Scene)
Maya de Vitry: vocals, guitar, fiddle, banjo ~ Oliver Craven: vocals, guitar, fiddle ~ Charles Muench: vocals, bass, banjo [photo Jake Jacobsen]
‘Dream in Blue’ opens the album, with a solo by bassist Charles Muench. “I played this song on a porch in Asheville, NC, and one of my friends told me she’d been in this song. I always knew who to sing it for after that,” Maya says. The album has already been enjoyed in unexpected places. “A friend of ours played the recording of ‘25 to Life’ for a room full of inmates at the Florida State Penitentiary. Apparently, the emotional response was unbelievable,” says Oliver. The inmates can’t own CDs, but THE STRAY BIRDS has been added to the prison’s public listening library.
Traveling tends to treat The Stray Birds well. “I had spent a few days sleeping in a tent between the railroad tracks and the Potomac River at DelFest in western Maryland. When I woke up on the last morning of the festival, ‘Railroad Man’ was coming into my head,” Maya remembers. But in some ways, the traveling never ends for those looking for something or someone that may never really be there, and Oliver sings of a particular friend’s longing in ‘Heavy Hands’. “This song is about the determination to persist positively and creatively through negative influence by the people closest to you,” Oliver says, “and the longing that comes in wishing those people were better to themselves and to each other.”
At the heart of the album, a medley of twin fiddle tunes ‘Give That Wildman a Knife/Bellows Falls/Waitin’ on a Hannah’ seems to wink at the setting in which it was recorded—a refurbished barn hayloft in the rolling hills of Virginia. The band’s embrace of three-part harmonies is fully realized on ‘My Brother’s Hill’, Oliver’s homage to Ralph Stanley. “They say you can tell someone’s from Appalachia if they know where they’re going to be buried,” says Oliver. “I find that sentiment really powerful, and I imagine Ralph looking towards the Clinch Mountains to be laid beside his brother.”
‘Harlem’ is a quiet gem nestled in the back half of the album—warmed by Oliver’s haunting resophonic guitar, it is a melody that bows to the simplicity of folk tunes. The song has landed Maya as a finalist in both the Telluride Troubadour showcase and the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Songwriter Showcase. On the final track, the album gives way to the Virginia night as the frogs and crickets join in harmony on ‘Wind & Rain’. “We can’t help but call this one ‘the closer’,” says Maya.
I first saw The Stray Birds at the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference in November of 2011. Their skills, their chemistry, and their reverence for the choices of original and traditional songs was obvious and undeniable in a 20 minute set, upon which I witnessed them fully enthrall an audience of about 60 people. It is one of those memorable moments you work for and live for in the world of modern popular music. I was fully stunned. We have been meeting and working together since January of 2012, and have released one EP, Borderland, and the band’s debut album, The Stray Birds, to growing acclaim and attention. They are wonderfully amazing.
A year of fantastic radio and press support has been capped with this NPR posting of the Top 10 Best Americana/Folk Recordings for 2012. www.npr.org.
For information and bookings for The Stray Birds in the US and Canada, please contact our friends and agency, John Laird at the Americana Music Agency.
For information and bookings for The Stray Birds in the UK and Ireland please contact our agency and friend Loudon Temple.
BOOKING (UK and Ireland):
Loudon Temple, Brookfield-Knights Agency