Comprised of Lancaster’s own Maya de Vitry, Oliver Craven, and Charles Muench, the Stray Birds first hit the scene at the turn of a new decade in 2010, immediately making an impression with their sweet harmonies lain over an acoustic instrumentation complete between guitar, violin, and upright bass on their debut release, Borderlands. So, from the beginning, it has been evident that these three would more or less be in the running to become Americana’s next darlings, an inimitable trio with their feet sown deeply into the organic, earthen roots of American folk music. Yet, they have continued to innovate their sound throughout the years in ways that some may not have come to expect from the doe-eyed, intimately sincere performance which launched them into the folk scene on Borderlands. Since then, the band have doubled-down on improving their presence on the stage and in the studio, developing severely more intense, impassioned, and perfectly pitched harmonies across a variety of melodies; they’ve developed into something more refined, more able and willing to launch further into a strong career of roots-based music headfirst with some much-needed experience tossed under their belts.
They continue to find a means to move onwards and upwards with their sound on their latest album, Magic Fire, but never have they quite done so in the way that they have here before. For a band primarily known for their rootsy acoustic ramblings prior to Magic Fire, they’ve flipped the formula straight on its head for their fifth consecutive release and their first in two solid years. Not only is their production value much more refined alongside the likes of three-time Grammy-winning producer Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson), but their sound, at an intrinsic level, has been expanded upon greatly with the introduction of the collaborative nature of the album.
For the first time in their careers, and since the foundation of Borderlands over half a decade prior, they have expanded upon their sound from an instrumental standpoint, bringing in a multitude of other musicians to the studio to bring a fuller, more well-rounded sound to the presentation. Aside from de Vitry’s trademark guitar and fiddling, or Muench’s upright bass, the Stray Birds are also met by the sounds of an organ, a drum set, piano, electric guitar, dobro, and much more in order to expand their sound into that of a full band. While not necessarily objectively better or worse than their fully acoustic front in the past, it does well to know that the band are finally seeming to work with a multitude of other artists in collaboration on their efforts.
Ultimately, it makes for a much different experience than their thoroughly celebrated Best Medicine, and certainly more than any of their efforts prior to the 2014 release, but one with as much quality as one would have deduced the band would strive for since their beginnings. Slowly but surely, we have seen de Vitry, Craven, and Muench’s court each other on a musical front, gradually growing into each other’s shoes and learning more about their own musical expansion as individuals and as a band. Magic Fire feels like a direct product of their hard work having culminated into a milestone. It will definitely be interesting to uncover just where the band will head next now that they’ve taken this instrumental step, sideways and upwards, towards expanding their ground.
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