Hello Love Original Band Biography - 2006
If you've ever seen a really good quilt, you know that it's not just a “patchwork.” The hands that put it together may be from more than one artisan. The elements of its creation can come from all sorts of sources: new textiles; old garments; stitching utilitarian and decorative, showy and subtle. But the result is a warm, cohesive whole.
Such is The Be Good Tanyas' third full-length release, Hello Love, which grew slowly out of a wealth of recordings laid down over the course of just over a year.
After the release of Blue Horse (2000) and Chinatown (2003), the Vancouver-based band played a handful of amazing live shows, but they took a break from serious touring and busied themselves with other projects.
In Frazey Ford's case, one "project" was the birth of her first child. "Coming back after having a child, and being a mom, and focusing on regular life, I think that's for me part of what allowed us to do this album. I'm glad that we stopped traveling so much and got an opportunity to live regular lives."
Sometimes, though, life can get in the way. "This one was a bit of a difficult birth," Parton confesses. "We didn't do any pre-production, we really didn't discuss much what songs were going to go on the record - we went in and started laying things down as we felt them. It wasn't necessarily the most focused approach to making an album, but it worked."
"With the other albums," says Ford, "we had just gotten off the road, and we had written a bunch of stuff already, so it was all kind of ready to go." With this one, though, "we started out without having done a bunch of touring before we did this album, so we had to make sure we had a variety to choose from."
"The first songs we started recording were the ones that had been popular numbers in our live sets," says Trish Klein. "Then, as we got into it, we started exploring recording some alternate songs, for album balance. We actually recorded a lot of songs for this record and had to really work through figuring out which ones would best apply to the album."
That's when things got tough: What stays? What goes?
What stayed were 12—make that 13, including a hidden track—compact, arresting snapshots of musical moods, performed with beguiling harmonies and spirited musicianship, true to The Be Good Tanyas' faith in tradition, simplicity, and the power of creation and collaboration.
The songs took shape in the untreated, organic recording setting that has become part of the groups trademark sound. "We tend to sort of 'do what we do'", says Parton. "We approach music simply, very simply, and in terms of production, we don't tend to stray too far from what our capacities are as a live band. The most important thing we try to capture in the studio, more than a perfect performance, is the raw emotion of a song."
They've succeeded in capturing that live sound. The album sounds as effortless and fresh as was the recording process of some—though not all - of the tracks. "Human Thing," which sounds like a serendipitous jam session, underwent a lot of work in the studio, so much that Klein worried about playing it in concert. "Am I gonna be able to play this guitar part, and this harmonica part, and sing these harmonies?"
Parton wrote "Crow Waltz" in a dream—just woke up, went to her piano and played it — and later recorded it with the Old Crow Medicine Show, who also make an appearance on her "A Little Blues."
The trio collaborated on writing the lively, undeniably Southern "Ootischenia." Parton's compositions include "Crow Waltz," the twinkle-bright "A Little Blues," and the stark, heart-melting "Song for R." Ford penned "Human Thing" and the pensive title track, which features her own field recording: "I just got my little minidisk and recorded rain running off the roof."
A sweet, rousing cover of Mississippi John Hurt's "Nobody Cares For Me" brings former member Jolie Holland in for backup vocals. There's the anticipated Trad. as author of two gospel-tinged offerings, "Out of the Wilderness" and the harmony-drenched "What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?"
And then there are the covers. Jeremy Lindsey's "Scattered Leaves" melds a captivating backbeat with an unexpected cocktail-bar elegance, while Sean Hayes' "A Thousand Tiny Pieces" ponders cosmic questions in Parton's late-night near-whisper: "How long will I last?/Can I turn up the heat?/What star am I circling?/What's circling me?"
A Neil Young cover is almost inevitable, but "For the Turnstiles" rocks Young's original. And a Prince cover as hidden track? Ford used to sing trip-hop, so maybe the bonus bit of funk isn't such a stretch.
But, as always, what these artists handle becomes something of their own. "If I'm singing someone else's song," Ford muses, "I really enjoy reinterpreting what they've done...I wouldn't say I like it more or less [than singing my own songs], but I think vocally it allows me more elasticity to stretch into and interpret someone's phrasing and lyrics. But I have to connect with it as though those words were coming from me. I definitely enjoy inhabiting other people's material."
The Be Good Tanyas' unique spirit as anything on their previous albums, which have won such raves as, "These performances beckon the listener even more into the material, as a fiery hearth might draw strangers together on a cold night" (Robert L. Doerschuk - AllMusic.com), "Poppy but rugged, with beautiful harmonies offset by a down home rootsieness." (Jody Denberg, KGSR/Austin). Their Great North-meets-Deep-South soulfulness and rhythms, their never-cloying sweetness, and their sincerity of purpose have earned them comparisons with Victoria Williams, the Band, and the Carter Family. But as Robin Aigner of Rolling Stone.com notes: "These knotty-pine girls sound like no one else."
Parton ponders the work of a crafter, how to shape, to add, to cut away: "There are always more songs, and more recordings - an album is a picture of a little moment in time of where you're at, you know? Despite how long it took, and despite what didn't make the cut, I think it's a good album - it's a pretty true statement of where the band is at."