I’ve been sitting on Anna Smyrk’s Song of the Silver-Tongued Magpie EP for some time. By the time listening to it reached the top of my to-do list Prince passed away, and I just wasn’t ready to hear to anything but his back catalogue. However on seeing that it’s released today, I thought I owed it to Anna to give it a spin. I’m not sure I could have found a more different recording to listen to. Its raw, folky blues numbers are a world away from the deeply-layered funk and soul songs I’ve been spinning. That’s a good thing though.
The first two tracks, “Barefoot Shuffle” and “House of Straw,” reminded me of the raw, organic power of music delivered simply, without a big studio budget. These songs were apparently recorded in the old Victorian farmhouse where Anna grew up. There’s a similar haunting quality about the tracks. Bare-bones music like this leaves nowhere to hide, and that exposure makes the songs so striking. The lilting piano melody of “Oh, the Wind” is like a big warm hug. Even though there’s a destructive force in the wind, its story is told with such irresistible tenderness. “The Murder of Alan Beyne” stopped me in my tracks. What quiet power a song gets when it’s anchored by a haunting voice and a compelling story. The harmonic layered vocals of the closing track, “Backyard Dawn” are so angelic. I love the sounds of magpies at the end of the track, a familiar sound heard in so many Aussie backyards. It ties back to the EP’s title in the most beautiful way.
While Anna’s musicianship is at the heart of Song of the Silver-Tongued Magpie, I’d be remiss not to mention Dan Musil on dobro guitar and Jimmy Power on banjo. These guys have played with Anna for years and it shows. You can hear how comfortable all the players feel together as they create these gorgeous songs.
Anna actually recorded Song of the Silver-Tongued Magpie a year ago but she postponed plans to release it when she was offered work with a Cambodian non-profit using music to help the country’s disadvantaged people. She’s back home for just two months before she commences more charity work in the Solomon Islands. During that time she’ll play just one show, at The Toff in Town on May 19 in Melbourne to support the EP’s release.
Image used with permission from Anna Smyrk