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The Graham Album Review #1790

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Victoria Blythe: Silver Flyer
by George Graham

(Fennel and Mustard Records. As broadcast on WVIA-FM 10/8/2014)

The English folk scene of the 1960s gave rise to a distinctive style of women vocalists. The late Sandy Denny was the best-known example with her dusky alto voice that people said could evoke misty castles. Other singers who emerged from scene included Maddy Prior and June Tabor, who went in for a sound that was largely direct and free from vibrato. It was a contrast from the angelic voiced, mostly soprano singers who came out of the folk scene, and on the other end of the spectrum, the blues and rock shouters like Janis Joplin. With the English folk styld so much associated with that country, there were not many women on this side of the Atlantic who sang that way.

This week, we have a new recording by an American singer who embodies the kind of influence in vocal style that can at times echo the British folk women. It's by Victoria Brythe, and her new CD is called Silver Flyer.

Victoria Blythe is from the San Francisco area and has been a member of a folk trio called Calaveras, one of whose albums we reviewed back in 2009. Ms. Blythe has been singing for most of her life. Her bio speaks of her singing Over the Rainbow at a kindergarten event. She wrote her first song at age 12, and then went on to study classical music playing violin, viola and piano. She often sang in church, directing her congregation's youth choir. She also was involved with theater both in school and more recently appearing in feature films and on TV. But she did little music professionally until forming the band Calaveras with her musical and life partner Greg Beattie back in 1992. Calaveras has released three CDs so far. And although they are a folky trio they did only occasional vocal harmonies. The group served as a kind of outlet for the individual songs of the members.

Ms. Blythe's new album Silver Flyer features much of the same personnel as the last Calaveras album, but with Ms. Blythe's vocals consistently in the spotlight. Many of the songs were co-written or solely written by her partner Greg Beattie. Stylistically, the almost all-acoustic album is an interesting mix of folk, some evoking the style of English groups like Fairport Convention, with other material ranging from jazzy ballads to soul-influenced. With this album highlighting Blythe's outstanding vocals more than the Calaveras recordings did, it's obvious that we have a major talent on our hands. She can be cool, have the detached cerebral sound of a Sandy Denny, or can do some jazzy ballads or torch songs, and even does an unexpected version of a funk tune.

The backing musicians on the CD include bassist Sam Bevan and percussionist Joe Craven, who has been a member of David Grisman's band, and pianist Jon R. Burr. This album is a kind of family affair, with Greg Beattle on some backing vocal, and Blythe and Beattie's daughter Olivia doing backing vocals and creating the paintings that appear on the CD artwork. Their son, Cameron, by the way, did the photography. The other principal member of Calaveras, Dave Decker, also appears on guitar.

Leading off is one of the album's most memorable tracks, the title piece Silver Flyer, which definitely evokes the English folk sound, including in the acoustic guitar filigree, played by Walter Strauss. Ms. Blythe's vocal is outstanding. <<>>

With a more soulful sound is a Greg Beattie song called Blind. It's one of a good number of songs about less-than-perfectly-smooth love affairs. <<>>

Another fine original song, this one co-written by Ms. Blythe and Greg Beattie, is called Good Enough. It's a kind of bluesy but philsophical love song, Ms. Blythe's vocal is again impressive. <<>>

The folkier side of the album is spotlighted on the the song called Coming Home. Lyrically, it takes the consideration of a commute home from work into something a lot deeper. <<>>

Feel You in My Bones by Greg Beattie is done as a kind of jazzy piano ballad, and again Ms. Blythe's vocals are impressive for her stylistic range. <<>>

The folky side is featured on a Blythe composition called The Deep which features vocal harmonies by Beattie, making something of a partial Calaveras reunion recording. <<>>

The Deep Blue of Midnight is another memorable track that is a sort of spooky love song with an atmospheric sound, and Ms. Blythe 's vocal performance is again outstanding. <<>>

There are two cover songs on the album. Definitely the more unexpected one is the James Brown funk classic I Got You (I Feel Good.) It becomes an intimate torch song the hands of Ms. Blythe and bassist Sam Bevan.

The CD closes with Waiting for the Sun, a folky ballad and love song, which also spotlights Ms. Blythe's vocal, especially her wide pitch range. <<>>

Silver Flyer, the new CD from Victoria Blythe is an impressive solo recording by one of the member of the folk trio Calaveras. On this record, her excellent vocals get an opportunity to be spotlighted. She has the subtle, supple alto that will remind some of Sandy Denny, and there are parts of this album that are reminiscent of the English folk scene of which Ms. Denny was a part. Ms. Blythe again works with her husband and Calaveras bandmate Greg Beattie, who wrote or co-wrote many of the songs. The mostly acoustic backing on the album is very tasteful, and fits in well with the various stylistic directions the album can take from the haunting sound of English folk to jazzy torch songs, all of which Ms. Blythe handles with aplomb. The result is an excellent album that has much to offer in terms of musical subtlety and depth.

Our grade for sound quality is an "A," with a clean, warm sound on the acoustic instruments and an intimate sound on Ms. Blythe's vocals. Studio effects were minimal and the recording has a decent dynamic range, with a minimum of volume compression.

Victoria Blythe may not exactly be a household name even among folk fans, but her new independently released solo album Silver Flyer has the potential to put her on the map as one of the outstanding current female folk-style vocalists on the scene. And her album makes for great listening.

(c) Copyright 2014 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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This page last updated October 13, 2014