A tale full of sound and fury frequently signifies less than one that's simple, honest and direct. The same, of course, can be said of music, as the Be Good Tanyas have proven time and again. The Vancouver trio has earned a devoted following with its jazzy, shuffling Americana, rich vocal harmonies, and characteristically understated manner.
"That's something people enjoy about what we do — that there is a lot of space — and a lot of bands out there have a tendency to fill all that space," says banjo player/guitarist/vocalist Trish Klein. "I never want to play more than is serving the moment most effectively. If anything, I do too little. I really want to be sensitive and approach it with a lot of careful subtlety."
The trio, which is rounded out by Samantha Parton and Frazey Ford, takes that approach to its apogee on "Gospel Song," one of two new originals on A Collection [2000-2012], which assembles their favorite tracks from the three previous LPs. The nearly six-minute song has the lonely feel of late-night traffic; spare acoustic strums and haunting pedal steel reinforce the ghost-town vibe, while Ford's wavering alto croon twists like boughs in a quiet storm, bending but unbreakable.
After releasing three albums between 2000 and 2006, the Be Good Tanyas took an extended hiatus. Then last year, they reunited for a reunion tour to support the vinyl release of their debut Blue Horse, in celebration of the album's 10th anniversary.
"We're actually all vinyl junkies," says Klein. "We collect albums and always have — but we never had our own stuff on a [vinyl] record. So to actually see our own stuff on a record meant a lot to us. And then we went on a tour and there was this crazy response. Tons of fans. It made us feel like, wow, this is really meaningful to people. And it felt good to play with each other, so we were like, 'Let's do more of this!'"
The group's name, by the way, comes from the title of an Obo Martin song about a wastrel musician whose nomadic tendencies Klein can still relate to. "I remember quitting jobs to go on the road with Be Good Tanyas. It happened like three times. Of course I had to lie to the people that employed me. At one point I actually convinced the same place to hire me back again. And they're like, 'You're not going to leave this time,' and I'm, 'Oh no, totally not,' and of course I quit. They were so pissed off. But I had to do what I had to do."
Old habits die hard. The trio is already back to writing, and making plans for the future. Ford and Klein have continued to work together through the years, jamming and coming up with new material, while Parton has brought in some songs of her own. There's currently talk of releasing digital singles or maybe a live disc.
Once you've contracted the musician's sickness, you're always prone to relapse. It's all part of following where the heart leads. As the group's "Gospel Song" puts it, "What you do is sacred / And what you say doesn't matter much."