CD Reviews: About as Good as It Gets; CD OF THE WEEK the Be Good Tanyas - Chinatown (Nettwerk)

The Birmingham Post (England), February 15, 2003 | Go to article overview

CD Reviews: About as Good as It Gets; CD OF THE WEEK the Be Good Tanyas - Chinatown (Nettwerk)


Byline: Andrew Cowen

Long-standing favourites of this paper, the unbelievably good Be Good Tanyas release their second album of haunting country-licked Americana.

Frazey Ford, Samantha Parton and Trish Klein belong to the same lineage that gave us the McGarrigle Singers and the Roches, that is confident and accomplished female singer/songwriters with meaty material.

Frazey and Samantha are the main voices, leaving Trish Klein to supply supple string bending, and it's her intricate banjo work that props up many of these songs. The two voices, separately and in harmony, are the bittersweet vehicles for songs that never fail to engage.

It's a dark album, closer in spirit to Patti Smith than Patsy Cline, which helps explain the enormous strides the Tanyas have made into the public consciousness over the last year. From the Ceol Castle to Warwick Arts Centre on Wednesday February 26, they've clearly struck a chord with a British audience.

Shorn of gimmickry, the album stands or falls on the strength of its songs and performances and both are well up to snuff.

Townes Van Zandt's edgy ballad Waiting Around to Die gets a masterful reading. Its subject matter: booze, drugs and loose women, never faze the Be Good Tanyas, despite the dark pay-off of the last line.

Even better is The Junkie Song, from the pen of Frazey Ford. The writer casts a withering eye over her neighbourhood and sees the effects of deprivation on its citizens. Like a distant crack-smoking relative of Ralph McTell's Streets of London, the song sheds any notion of nostalgia and goes straight for the jugular. Rather than bemoan the ravages of a society hooked on drugs, Ford sees the victims as invisible blots on the urban landscape. And instead of being an anti-drugs rant, it's a hymn to complacency in a world where we've become used to human casualties.

Samantha Parton is a less prolific writer than Ford, but she contributes one of the album's best moments in the enigmatic Dogsong 2. Again, death strides the emotional landscape as the singer returns from a burial. Whether the ceremony in question is for a canine companion or a human friend is unclear. It's a metaphysical moment with fiddle and saw accompaniment.

Scanning the lyric sheet, the only track not specifially dealing with death or loss is Horses, and that's an instrumental.

There's a swathe of traditional songs in the second half of the album including two standards: House of the Rising Sun and In My Time of Dying. The former shouldmaybe have been left in the can since it's such a hoary old nugget and the girls bring nothing new to the arrangement. The latter, once a cornerstone of Led Zeppelin's repertoire, is more successful with an arrangement which moves it away from its blues roots and closer to Nashville.

The disturbing ballad I Wish My Baby Was Born wouldn't have been out of place on Sinead O'Connor's new album and sounds like an English folk song.

So, another triumph for the Be Good Tanyas then and a lesson to all the alt.country pretenders. HHHH

To order this CD for pounds 13.99, inc P&P, call the Birmingham Post Music Line on 01634 832 789.

Barry White - Love Songs (Universal) Rather like the Joy of Sex in the 1970s, this is vital bedroom gear for the easily led. The endless recycling of Bazza White is rather like those interminable features in the Sunday tabloids offering you 100 new ways to please your partner.

Luckily there's no rocket science involved. Just get out the leopard-skin grundies and slap on this CD for instant ladee action.

This serves as a fine Barry White primer for the simple reason that most of the 15 cuts are present in their album format. So you got the lengthy good-loving versions rather than the knee-trembling singles edits. Each of these songs is a mini-seduction and damn fine soul music to boot.

Kicking off with the Love Unlimited Orchestra's Love's Theme, it's time to wiggle the dimmer switch and kick back with a glass of lager and Advocat and let the music take over. …

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