The Stray BirdsThe Stray Birds
Album: Best Medicine
Label: Yep Roc
Tracks: 12

"Best Medicine" is the new album from The Stray Birds and it has a lot to live up to. The band's first full-length album "The Stray Birds" was on many people's lists of "favourite albums of 2012", including mine. I was greatly taken with their exquisite blend of bluegrass and folk and my enthusiasm for their music was increased when I had the good fortune to see them play live at Grateful Fred's back in February this year, when they were fresh from a sell-out appearance at Celtic Connections. They were pretty awesome live, as well on album and their show was one of the best that I have attended this year [see my review at for further information].

At the live show, the 'Birds played a new song called "Best Medicine" and it is this song which opens the new album and provides its title. I was most impressed with this song when I heard it live and the recorded version is every bit as good. It's a wonderful song about a record shop which survives against the odds by "hanging on the vine". The title refers to the fact that "music is the best medicine I sell". Taking lead vocals on this memorable song is Maya de Vitry, whose melodious voice is perfectly complemented by the subtle tones of Oliver Craven's resonator guitar and the double bass of Charles Muench. As ever with the Stray Birds, the harmonies are spot on. As we approach the awards season, this has to be a contender for Best Song of the Year . The remaining eleven songs are no slouches either.

"Best Medicine" is followed by the equally lovely, bluegrass-flavoured "Adelaide", also featuring Maya on lead vocals and soaring fiddle. Wonderful stuff!

It's Oliver's turn to sing lead on a pair of atmospheric songs, which both refer to the desert, "Feathers and Bone" and "San Antonio". Again, the harmonies are superb.

It's back to bluegrass with "The Bells", which sounds for all the world like a traditional song [it isn't] . The playing, particularly Oliver's resonator is simply stunning and Maya's vocals are a tour de force. Another brilliant track.

After the frenetic bluegrass of "The Bells", the mood changes to that of quiet reflection for the gorgeous "Never For Nothing".

The Stray Birds show that they have more strings to their bows on their Gypsy Jazz/Hot Club de Paris version of the traditional "Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor", which they simply call "Pallet". Apart from hot guitar and fiddle, this number also features a great slap-bass solo from Charles Muench.

The only other non-original song on the album is "Who's Gonna Shoe [Your Pretty Little Feet]?", a traditional song that was adapted by Woody Guthrie, which features a duet between Maya and Oliver which, curiously reminds me of "There's A Hole In My Bucket, Dear Liza".

I could continue to wax lyrical about the remainder of this superb album but you've probably gathered by now that I am rather partial to it. I would recommend it highly to anyone with more than a passing interest in folk with a bluegrass twist to it. Enough said.

Peter Cowley