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The Stray Birds

The Live Room, Saltaire
Friday 7 October 2016

The dimly-lit stage at one end of the darkened Live Room at the Caroline Street Social Club was dominated by a reposeful double bass lying diagonally across the stage as people took their seats for potentially another great night at the popular Saltaire venue, which lies almost hidden in the shadow of the bold Salts Mill chimney and cluster of surrounding former textile mill buildings just beyond the car park. Salts Mill is the most immediate reminder of how these parts once functioned in earlier times and the name Titus Salt remains synonymous with the area to this day.  

Tonight, from Pennsylvania, the Stray Birds returned to the club with a bunch of new songs, together with a new drummer helping to fill out the band's already full sound. The musicians, Oliver Craven on guitar, mandolin and fiddle, Maya de Vitry also on guitar and fiddle, Charlie Muench on double bass and Dominic Billett on drums, seemed to be in the process of shaking off jet-lag after only just landing on these shores, having played just the one gig so far in their 15 date UK tour. For their second appointment, we found the band in great voice, with Oliver, Maya and Charlie huddled around a single condenser microphone, whilst Dominic seated himself off to the right hand side of the stage, only joining the others at the end of the night for their final bow.

Once the light flooded the stage, those three very distinctive voices approached the microphone opening the first set with the unaccompanied intro to When I Die, the song that closes their latest album release MAGIC FIRE, the predominant focus of tonight's show, both vinyl and CD versions being also available at the gig. Oliver's mum was only too pleased to be looking after the merch table at the back of the room next to the sound desk, Maya pointing out that Kim actually belongs in England as she likes 'books and knitting'. It's certainly encouraging to know that our national pastimes have reached the folk of the Keystone State.

Throughout the two sets, there appeared to be a rather noticeable democratic distribution of songs, with Oliver, Maya and Charlie taking their turn as lead vocalist, each carefully negotiating the well-rehearsed choreography that comes with using such a set up. Their voices work best when joined in harmony as exemplified on such songs as Shining in the Distance, All the News and Caleb Klauder's New Shoes.

"It's so good to be back here" Maya said before launching into the new song Radio, which was given its debut performance at the venue tonight. It has to be said that there may well be similarities between Maya's vocal delivery to that of Gillian Welch, more so when complemented by Oliver's David Rawlings-like resonator guitar licks, but this is not a bad thing in the least; great music rubs off from one generation to the next. One of the outstanding songs in the Stray Birds current repertoire is Mississippi Pearl, which tonight showed Maya very much in soulful mode.

With one or two older songs such as Harlem from the band's eponymous debut album and The Bells from the BEST MEDICINE album, the latter part of the second set saw the band paying tribute to some their own particular heroes such as Emmylou Harris with San Antone Rose, Jimmy Rodgers with Blue Yodel #7 and Townes Van Zandt with Loretta, for which Oliver broke out the mandolin for the first time. 

After playing two astonishingly good sets, the band closed with another new song, Sabina, the band returning to the stage for the final encore of the Louvin Brothers' When I Stop Dreaming, a song that has been in the band's repertoire from the beginning and the sort of song that couldn't really be followed. 

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky

2016 UK Tour:
Oct 06 South Holland Centre, Spalding         
Oct 07 The Live Room, Caroline Social Club, Saltaire     
Oct 08 Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal       
Oct 09 Centre for Contemporary Arets, Glasgow    
Oct 10 Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Oct 12 The Performing Arts Centre, Johnstone
Oct 13 The Tolbooth, Stirling     
Oct 14 Mareel, Lerwick, Shetland       
Oct 15 Glenbuchat Hall, Strathdon
Oct 16 The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
Oct 18 Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich   
Oct 19 The Met Studio, Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford      
Oct 20 Bush Hall, London       
Oct 21 The Bullingdon, Oxford     
Oct 22 St Peter's By The Waterfront, Ipswich

More Info: www.thestraybirds.com