Traditional folk trio brings its Best Medicine to Lancaster’s Tellus360 for album release
Oliver Craven has gone a great distance since his days of busking in front of Lancaster’s Central Market with his musical partners, Maya de Vitry and Charlie Muench.
The Ephrata native and Stray Birds member moved to Asheville, NC, a year ago, although most of that time has been spent traveling thousands of miles around the world on an almost constant touring schedule promoting the band’s 2012 self-titled debut. That album led to critical accolades as varied as a spot on NPR’s list of the 10 best folk and Americana albums of the year to praises from John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Now The Stray Birds return with their follow-up full-length album, Best Medicine, which drops on October 21 on Yep Roc Records (home to acts like Nick Lowe and Robyn Hitchcock). Their video for the song “Best Medicine” – which recently premiered on CMT – tells the story of finding a lone thriving vinyl music store among abandoned storefronts in Schenectady, NY.
When asked if music is the best medicine the guitarist, fiddle player and vocalist knows to dispense, Craven lets out a hearty laugh.
“It’s certainly the best medicine I sell,” he says as he prepares for a concert in Nashville. “It’s even medicine for me. I’m most comfortable and calm when I’m playing music – if it’s on stage, in the privacy of my home or with other people in a small setting. It all takes the trouble off your mind. So if we can do that for other people, then it’s the best medicine we sell.”
Best Medicine took shape more than a year ago when The Stray Birds traveled to the studio of producer Stuart Martin in Leesburg, VA, spending five months on an off-and-on schedule to record the album. Craven says Martin allowed the band to create its own sound, recording a majority of the 12-song effort in a live setting instead of isolating the tracks of the three musicians.
“We can’t deny that the feel [of the album] is just more authentic and more cohesive, and there’s an energy that we can’t reproduce when we’re not all in the same place,” Craven says.
The new album features several firsts for the band, including the first time bassist Muench sings lead on a recorded song in “Pallet” and the first time Craven and de Vitry wrote a song together with “Feathers and Bone.” Craven says “Feathers and Bone” materialized one evening in the studio as the two musicians started hashing out ideas, quickly putting them down on tape.
Most of Craven’s own songs on the album were developed while traveling on the road and were the first time tunes were written with The Stray Birds’ repertoire specifically in mind.
A notable exception to Craven’s new output is the song “Simple Man,” which he says was one of the first songs he ever wrote. “Simple Man” is reminiscent of a Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl ballad that tells the story of a down-and-out farmer who doesn’t care if he lives until the next day. Craven says the song was “pulled out of thin air one night.”
“It’s one of those funny songs that you don’t know where it comes from,” Craven says. “You write it, and then you learn about the song and what it means to people as the song continues to live.”
The Stray Birds return to Lancaster for the release of Best Medicine on Sunday, October 26 at Tellus360 (24 E. King St., Lancaster). Australian songwriter Jordie Lane opens. 8pm. $15. 21+. Click here for tickets.