Blue Horse Original Band Biography 2001
"This is how people have played music for one hundred, two hundred, five hundred, a thousand years," says singer/guitarist Frazey Ford of The Be Good Tanyas' debut album, Blue Horse.
Indeed there are moments on the album that seem to come directly from a time other than our own. Sometimes it seems more likely that The Be Good Tanyas emerged from the pages of a John Steinbeck novel rather than modern-day Vancouver. Blue Horse bears the distinct quality of having been around forever, like Tom Joad's whispering wind, like the tilling of earth, like music itself. And in some ways, it has.
Certainly, songs from the album like "The Coo Coo Bird" and "Rain and Snow" predate modern copyright laws. And though Stephen Foster registered "Oh Susanna" under his own name as composer in 1847, earlier versions are known to have been performed by minstrel groups earlier that century. But The Be Good Tanyas are far from mere revivalists.
Frazey Ford (guitar, lead vocals, harmony vocals) Trish Klein (banjo, guitar, harmony vocals) and Samantha Parton (mandolin, guitar, vocals) have all been making music most of their lives, both together and apart. Their shared history can be traced back several years to Nelson, British Columbia.
While on the tree planting lines of the Canadian Kootenays, Ford and Parton whiled away the working day singing everything from Joni Mitchell to traditional field worker songs. At night the three of them frequently sang on a local watering hole’s open mike stage jamming mainly jazz and R&B.
They all went their separate ways after the planting season, Ford to Montreal, Klein to Vancouver, and Parton on a road trip with her dog that found her in New Orleans. Throughout all of their travels, music went with them. When all three of them found themselves in Vancouver a few years later they resumed their shared passion for music in weekly living room song sessions.
"We all had an interest in old time music, but we had all been playing other kinds of music too," says Ford. "We were just sharing songs that we loved, from old country ballads to 1920s gospel and jazz." The uniquely christened band continued to keep their music mostly to themselves making the odd appearances around Vancouver. "The band was really a safe place to experiment," says Klein. "It was an experiment to see if I could learn to play the banjo."
The high lonesome close harmonies the Tanyas create, according to Ford, "comes from having sisters. It's something we don't even plan out. It's second nature." As Tom Sheriff of the U.K. publication Comes With A Smile writes "…it is their engaging voices, either individually, or collectively in sumptuous harmony, that really captivate. There is both vulnerability and sass: they thrill and warble and cry and sneer."
"It was all out of fun," adds Parton, noting that the Tanyas had little-to-no expectations of taking the band any further than their living room until Mandy Wheelwright volunteered to manage the band. "Otherwise we would all be dispersed to the four corners of the world by now."
Spurred on by the increasing interest in the band, Parton hastily booked a manic tour that took the Tanyas from Vancouver to New Orleans. Upon returning to Vancouver, the band set up (with co-producer Futcher) in a rustic Shack by the train tracks outside of town to record their first album. "We basically holed up for three weeks with a lot of red wine," says Parton. "We stayed up all night and listened to the trains go by."
The resulting album, Blue Horse, is a remarkable blend of the Tanyas' various influences both readily apparent and not. It's an album that feels like a recording from decades past, and yet is unwaveringly contemporary. From the opening "The Littlest Birds," which harkens back to the hobo jungles of the Depression era to the closing "Light Enough to Travel," Vancouver songwriter Geoff Berner's meditation on urban alienation, Blue Horse sustains an aura of urgent timelessness.