Self-produced, 2015. Hey Mavis: http://heymavis.com/
We reviewed Hey Mavis’ previous album, Honey Man, almost exactly two years ago. It seems like more but here it is, and we are exceedingly happy. Much of the core of the band is the same, except that Brent Kirby has been busy with some other projects and appears on only a couple of tracks here (and co-wrote four songs with Laurie). I really enjoyed the vocals Kirby brought to the group on the previous album, but Caner, Caner, and Thomas shoulder on with help from some other fine musicians. Recorded in churches in Bath and Kent, with production by Adam Aijala (of the Yonder Mountain String Band), and engineering by Don Dixon, the album has a crystal clear quality to it, whether listening to it with good headphones or cheap laptop speakers. It seems fuller, more expansive than previous albums.
The group’s sound has changed a bit too, but not so much that you wouldn’t know it was them. They're still an Americana band in the truest sense of blending folk, country, jazz, and other musical elements into a seamless whole. They continue to refine their sound and their vision of what it is they want to do. So, where to begin? The problem is that there is no single thing to point to that makes it a great album. It’s not just Laurie’s banjo, or her voice, which makes me slightly weak in the knees (yes, I admit it) with its combination of sweetness and strength, darkness and light. Eddie’s soaring fiddle and moaning viola add enormously to the overall feel, but that’s not the whole of it. Bryan’s bass brings solidity and depth to the music (and he’s so much fun to watch on stage!), but no, it’s not just him. The songwriting on this album equals or surpasses, on average, the amazing songs on Honey Man, but they only come to life in the performance. All of these things work together, and perhaps the explanation is that the group is just two years older and further along in the sophistication of their interaction as a band.
I also find it difficult to single out favorite songs, because each time I listen I end up with a different two or three. The first time through, it was the trio of songs near the beginning, “Looking Back,” “Longing for the Past,” and “The Love We Give,” two of which were co-written by Laurie and Brent. In the first two Laurie’s voice alternates between hurt innocence and bitter resignation, the harmonies are gorgeous, and the instrumentation full and rich. The third has a faster tempo, the hooks are strong, and the solos are a delight. It’s no wonder they chose this one as their first professionally produced video (https://www.youtube.com/user/HeyMavisMusic). Next time through I was in more of a “Mon Bijou” mood, with its sultry atmosphere set by the fine viola and guitar work, but “Wedding Gown” caught my attention with its country mood, and the harmonies in “What Am I Without You” stand out. My wife thinks the title track is the best song.
Hey Mavis is clearly on an upward trend, with this album just one obvious example. They appeared on the NPR show Mountain Stage, and are scheduled to reappear on May 1st. They’re getting more press and more airplay. The CD release show at the Happy Days Lodge in Peninsula was packed and fabulous, with the addition of drummer Anthony Taddeo and guitarist Kevin Johnson. And they’ll be playing in Lakeside, Morgantown, and Pittsburgh. See them when you can.
Personnel: Laurie Michelle Caner (banjo, lead and harmony vocals), Eddie Caner (fiddle, viola profunda, string arrangements), Bryan Thomas (bass, percussion, Chank-o-Matic 6000); with additional musicians: Adam Aijala (acoustic guitar), Don Dixon (electric guitar, percussion, other cool stuff), Mark Gonder (drums), J. J. Juliano (drums on tracks 1 & 4), Brent Kirby (acoustic guitar on tracks 1 & 4).
Tracks: What I Did, Looking Back, Longing for the Past, The Love We Give, Graveyard Stone, Mon Bijou, Wedding Gown, What I Am Without You, Hairbrush, Honey on the Hill.