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The Be Good Tanyas

A Collection – 2012 (Nettwerk)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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At first glance, the idea of an anthology for a band that's released only three albums over the course of a dozen years or so seems a bit unnecessary. After all, anyone wishing to catch up might be better advised to pick up the original albums, being that it might make little difference as far as any hit to the wallet is concerned. However now that The Be Good Tanyas have dissolved, at least for the time being, it's understandable that their label might want to offer a final glimpse in the rearview mirror and give those unawares a hint of what they might have been missing all along.

Consequently, the uninitiated will discover a trio still firmly entrenched in their roots, three adept singer/songwriters who don't so much reinvent their Appalachian view of traditional folk music, but actually play to the core through honesty and authenticity. This often predicates a mournful style, their stripped down, bare-bared arrangements a testament to their template. As a result, unlike other acts of their ilk and gender - Red Molly, Oh Susanna and Blame Sally - the Tanyas eschew outright celebration for a more sedate motif. That's obvious at the outset, given the modest lilt and sway accorded such songs as Only in the Past, Scattered Leaves, Dogsong and Draft Daughter's Blues, each of which hangs on little more than the pluck of banjos, mandolin and fiddle as well as the soothing caress of billowing harmonies. So while a pair of new songs and a handful of covers - from Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young and, most appropriately, Stephen Foster - would seem to suggest some diversion, the music mostly maintains its earnest intents. It's hardly a surprise then that the best song of the bunch, at least in terms of an affecting performance, is Song for R., a lovely piano ballad that wrings both heartstrings and teardrops alike.

Whether its for catch-up or simply as a handy compendium, "A Collection" serves its purpose well. Those who prefer their sepia-tinged serenades in modest doses will find an ample fill here.