Sunday, February 3, 2013

Stray Birds on Columbia Point

Drove down to UMassBoston's campus on Columbia Point to see the Stray Birds do a Member Concert.  They were named New Artist of the Year for 2012 by the station and the concert in Whalen Auditorium was "sold out."  We showed up for the artist's reception, where food was advertised but they only had cookies, as opposed to the previous artist's reception we'd been too.  Another change was that the artists didn't show up at the reception, but we had a nice conversation with GM Patty Demenico, standing in the non-heated concrete bunker next to Whalen Auditorium.  UMassBoston was really strange when I took graduate school courses there in the '80s and it hasn't gotten any less strange, though it apparently now has plans of becoming  a residential college rather than a commuter one.

Anyway, we all filed into the auditorium sooner or later and the Stray Birds came on for a long set (after the raffle; Maya won one of the drawings and was delighted ("I never win *anything!*) ... I love college radio).  They have one and a half records out and already have developed some signature songs, like the opening Birds of the Borderland, the hauntingly beautiful I Dream In Blue, and the closing My Brother's Hill.  This last one is the kind of song that you hear on the radio and think, "they could never do that live," and then they do it even better live.

Tall, redheaded Charles Muench was amazingly nimble on the double-bass, bowing it as often as plucking it and producing a fabulous tone.  Maya de Vitry (who studied at Berklee under Darol Anger and John McCann) and Oliver Craven swapped guitar and also alternated between banjo (Maya), mandolin (Oliver), and fiddle (both).  Oliver is a virtuoso on the flat-top and Maya is one of those people who seem to be able to play anything with strings.  She's also written some delicious, atmospheric songs like Harlem(?) and her song remembering her teacher, McCann.

They did some non-originals too, like Townes van Zandt's Loretta and the traditional Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor.  Their singing is near-indescribable, as they've worked out excellent vocal arrangements (Loretta was 3-part harmony all the way through) which are gems.  You've gotta hear these guys!  I feel UMB has swung and missed badly on some of their New Artists of the Year, but they've also hit some out of the park, like Kate Campbell long ago and these guys this year.

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