8 March 2014

The Be Good Tanyas - Chinatown


The Be Good Tanyas are basically an all girl folk trio from Vancouver with their own arrangements of various semi classics. First song I heard from them albeit briefly was the introduction to House Of The Rising Sun popularized by The Animals in the mid 1960s, theirs is a different kind of beat, something much more organic and unplugged. It's like that Led Zeppelin cover Whole Lotta Love by CCS (remember the 1970s theme from Top Of The Pops?), running on the same key and chords, but an altogether different rhythm. But hopefully this album from 2003 Chinatown isn't going to be a covers filled record.

The three ladies in question are Frazey Ford, Samantha Parton and Trish Klein although the second musician has had to take a prolonged break after some appalling luck in recent times with a couple of sizeable road accidents. They're basically an all guitar group and alternate the instruments like the mandolin and banjo roles between each other. A kind of female answer to Crosby, Stills and Nash, I believe Miss Ford is the one that takes the predominant lead vocals. Her voice feels like a softer and more delicate variant of fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan.

Chinatown is a fourteen track offering, half of them are indeed covers, examples include the aforementioned House Of The Rising Sun and the Townes Van Zandt written Waiting To Die, the latter sounding like a Johnny Cash spoken narrative and the paintbrush drumming illustrates what sort of personal demons the great man must've been going through. There's also In My Time Of Dying which Zeppelin also covered (they also rather naughtily claimed it was written by them!), it's strictly unplugged, but not as skiffley and raw as I thought. There's too many harmonies and the odd banjo lead, it ebbs a good feel of rhythm. Their version of Peter Rowan's Midnight Moonlight is certainly more stripped bare and very acoustic at its most basic level. Not for everyone I guess, but ideal if you're looking for something to wind down the final waking moments of the day.


The band written song credits have been shared between Frazey Ford and Samantha Parton, although all three members have had a hand in Horses, it's backed up by trumpet work and is more Easy Listening rather than Country and Western. Dogsong 2, like Midnight Moonlight feels a bit too long and drawn especially in the mid part of the album and good only if time is much on your hands. Rowdy Blues is a 12 bar cover, with Simon And Garfunkel possibly performed in mind, it's easy to picture the three members sat down facing each other having a jamming session in a prairie house. In Spite Of All The Danger has been featured in the TV series The L Word, it's a lyrical writ of confession and remorse and a plea for forgiveness. Nice brief harmonica leads towards the end that must be said. And also I enjoyed The Junkie Song, which is a social commentary with some frankness in the lyrics.

Chinatown is easy going, that's probably the best way to describe it, but sometimes a little too easy going for comfort. Yet sometimes it rubs a bit of rustic charm on you. Mind you, aside from the gentle pace it treads, it really doesn't always hold my attention and on occasion, it feels like the Canadian Trio are hankering for the nostalgia of Blues from a bygone era a little too often. The edges have been smoothed out, the spikiness that takes things onto the next level simply isn't always there and what could be easily be a nice piece of rustic charm The Be Good Tanyas do make slight heavy weather of.

6.5 out of ten. Now I see where you were going, but not quite there.
Best Track : The Junkie Song

Buy Chinatown here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Be Good Tanyas official website on this link

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