Having had only limited exposure to the Be Good Tanyas and always been interested in hearing more, I fall squarely within the target audience for a retrospective, and this set forms a fine education.
The older songs tend to be the strongest, particularly those from 2000’s debut album Blue Horse. ‘The Littlest Birds’ expounds the theory which inspired Tiny Birds’ name, that “the littlest birds sing the prettiest songs” and it is itself very pretty, as is ‘Only In The Past’, while the album also provides the superb ‘Light Enough To Travel’ and a charmingly understated version of Stephen Foster’s oft-covered standard ‘Oh Susanna’.
The seemingly less than cheery Chinatown, from 2003, offers up ‘The Junkie Song’, one of the band’s signature numbers, as well as excellent versions of ‘Waiting Around To Die’ by Townes van Zandt and the traditional song ‘In My Time Of Dying’.
Hello Love – released in 2006, the band’s last studio album before going on hiatus two years later – is more sparsely represented but does give us the gorgeous piano-led ‘Song For R’, while there are also two brand new songs on show, the twinkly but inconsequential ‘Little Black Bear’ and high-class closing track ‘Gospel Song’.
For the most part, the songs shimmer gently as restrained instrumentation allows the warmth of the trio’s voices to take centre stage, with the overpowering harmonica on Neil Young’s ‘For The Turnstiles’ and the staccato guitar of ‘Ship Out On The Sea’ providing rare exceptions. This is an enjoyable collection in its own right and could easily lure me into a purchase of Blue Horse – job done.
Words: Tom White