When you’ve made a great album and yielded warm appreciation, the next move can be a critical one. The Stray Birds have reached such a point and the result is a bold diversion which has reaped dividends with stupendous quality. MAGIC FIRE has emerged as a masterclass in merging tradition with modernity revealing an album that takes this trio in a far more contemporary direction than their earlier material indicated. Working with Grammy winning producer Larry Campbell has provided the golden ticket for Maya, Charles and Oliver, with the excellent label Yep Roc proving the ideal vehicle for them to evolve their music.
Although active since 2010, The Stray Birds made the most prominent advancement with the release of BEST MEDICINE in 2014 and followed this up with an acclaimed performance at the Cambridge Folk Festival last year. Seeing the band live in Stafford on the accompanying UK tour really brought home their talent in the field of instrument exchange, sumptuous harmonies and ability to thrive in purveying the art of the old time string band. The new record maintains all these admirable traits while adding a more up to date overlay with drums, guitars and keys. The production ensures the intermittent twang retains a country sound, while various other techniques flavour a few tracks with the classic 70s singer-songwriter rock sound. Right through the record the fiddle thread keeps the roots intact as well as the band’s trademark vocal switch and harmony features.
In line with the previous record serving up a pivotal stand out track with the title song, this new one also possesses a number with a terrific melody to the extent that ‘Sabrina’ has the potential to be one of the most popular tracks to hit the waves this year. The chorus, verses, light hearted mood, toe tapping feel and fabulous fiddle parts give the tune an amazing gloss and an already good record an elevated lift. Not to be too intimidated by this heady highlight, the alluring ‘Radio’ glistens intensely and the retro sounding country pop piece ‘Somehow’ blossoms to a high degree.
Referring back to the 70s comment, ‘Third Day in a Row’ and ‘Sunday Morning’ are both guilty in the pleasure stakes with visions of classic artists locking in the guitars and keys to a laid back sound. The producer has worked with several great artists in the past including Levon Helm and his input in framing the sound is profoundly detectable. The dark undertones to ‘Hands of Man’ adds to the diversity alongside the jaunty ‘All the News’ and the kick back feel to ‘Mississippi Pearl’.
The song writing on all twelve tracks has been a collaborative effort and once you’ve seen The Stray Birds live, the entity of their performance is a key feature. Fellow American Lindsay Lou helped out in the writing of album opener ‘Shining in the Distance, a distinct track which while being the unmistakeable Stray Birds sound, does herald the changes that lie ahead.
The Stray Birds are due to tour the UK in October and the mouth-watering prospect of hearing these songs live increases with each album spin. MAGIC FIRE has the legs of a long distance runner, explosive parts of a ten second sprinter and is a gold medal candidate from start to finish. The permanent class of this trio ensured that this exploration process has thrived, with a vital record to enrich the Americana roots scene the towering result.
Check out the UK Tour Dates