The Be Good Tanyas – Bristol Bierkeller, March 2003

It’s a dusky evening, the sun just dipped behind the mountains and the late summer breeze is gentle and cool. Three women, each with a past and a penchant for travelling are sitting on the front porch sipping iced teas and recounting tales of lost love and journeys now drawn to a close.

Heart-achingly beautiful harmonies

Maybe. Except that this is a worn and creaky but strangely charming little haunt in the city, with not a mountain in sight, and the women in question are swigging from cans of Red Stripe instead of iced tea. But somehow, the Be Good Tanyas, with their heart-achingly beautiful harmonies and wistful reminiscing, manage to enchant this room and leave their fellow travellers, wanderers, romantics and storytellers, hanging on their every word.

The opening ‘Horses’, taken from the new album Chinatown, mesmerises with its wordless, ethereal shivers and from then on, the assembled crowd is captivated by Frazey Ford’s forlorn vocals. With a set taken from Chinatown and debut Blue Horse, the Be Good Tanyas weave tales of heartbreak, of the blues, of journeys on the open road and of the lives they see around them. Some are hungry songs, some weary, some full of yearning for the way things were. ‘Don’t You Fall’ and ‘In Spite of All the Damage’ are narrated with grace and bittersweet passion, while traditional folk classic ‘Reuben’ and crowd favourite ‘The Littlest Birds’ give the set a much-needed carefree edge. For the encore, the band are joined by support act and country-folkie, Erin McKeown who lends her strumming ‘n’ singing to a rousing ‘Light Enough To Travel’.

Their songs are nostalgic and they dress like my mother might have dressed if she’d been a Tennessee-mountain-home-country-gal in 1930, all cowgirl boots and vintage dresses. Toting banjos and ukuleles and lamenting their ‘rambling ways’, the Be Good Tanyas are the mountains, the sunset on the horizon, the dusky evening on the back porch and the open road. I want to go with them and see what they see. I want to sit in the back of the van, heading for Arizona, Vancouver, Texas, Anystate, singing their stories with them.

But for now, I’ll settle for this.

Reviewed by Indigo Black.