How to Break a Fall
Two years ago, the gifted Americana band The Stray Birds left us with the parting Let It Pass, the last of their great albums. A central figure in making those was co-founder and often frontwoman, multi-instrumentalist and superb vocalist/songwriter Maya De Vitry. Last year De Vitry delivered her first solo effort, Adaptations, as she tried to find her footing going it alone. De Vitry can play a variety of string instruments, most notably fiddle, but just as she did on that record, she chooses to play mostly acoustic guitar. She’s working again on How to Break a Fall with Dan Knobler as producer and a studio band that had some members returning. That band is guitarist and harmony vocalist, returnee Courtney Hartman, Ben Tanner (former keyboardist for The Alabama Shakes), bassist Ethan Jodziewicz, and returnee drummer Jason Burger. Knobler and De Vitry play guitars as well. De Vitry certainly trusted this talented cast, claiming that songs were learned just days before recording began with two days devoted to rehearsals. De Vitry says, “The musicians were ready with their instincts, without any preconceived lines. We were responding to each song in the moment, together.
De Vitry’s voice is among the most ethereal and pure in roots music. One can be transported by the sheer beauty of it, heard first on the opening “Better and Better,” an aptly titled tune for De Vitry’s growth in confidence which is readily apparent throughout. It’s an intimate album both lyrically and musically, as delivered on “Bread for the Circus,” with bare drums and a Wurlitzer behind the analogy about losing one’s sense of self or sense of power. De Vitry’s thought pattern here deserves more elaboration. “The circus represents a wild freedom or spectacle that is supposed to be feel freeing, but behind the scenes, in the darkness, when no one else is watching, there is a feeling of being trapped, going the through the motions, a loss of control, and a longing to run away from the circus. The bread is whatever we do to survive on the interior, in that context. We may even be doing something we love to do, but something still is not right,” she explains.
While her last album was often ethereal and dreamy, this one has a more melodic punch and touches of rock n’ roll, “Magazine” being a prime example. She sings about a little girl doing things with her body that would be rather gauche if an adult were to do the same. Her wails against Tanner’s B3 swirls are directed at a woman taking ownership of her body. “Don’t Know When” is like a quiet interlude between “Magazine” and “Something In the Way She Moves,” (not a cover, just the same title) where her angelic voice soars on the choruses, as it does in many places. That soaring quality is a trait of confidence. “Gray” comes off as a bit too meditative but the second half of the album offers some standout tracks.
The incessant beat of “Open the Door” and its let-the wind-blow-back-your-hair anthemic thrust will have you hitting the repeat button. She follows with what could be a theme of the project, the chugging Everly Brothers-like “Taking Up Rock And Roll” with some nice Wurlitzer work from Tanner. We slip again into more somber tones on “Reverie,” as the title suggests. Yet her voice is so stunningly beautiful, it’s not to be missed. this one that. “Revolution” carries a syncopated beat but never really takes off until the distorted instrumental breaks seem to ignite more fire in De Vitry’s delivery. She renders “In the Meantime I Love You” tenderly before closing with the deceptively titled “Joy” that bears the slowest tempo any song. She says, “The close of this album is not necessarily any place of resolution. There’s still motion, there’s still growing to do, and healing to do, and this song is a hand reaching out to anyone else who is still deep, deep underwater. When we’re in the thick of brokenness, or healing, it can be so difficult to perceive that we are still moving closer and closer to knowing joy again. But we are often moving forward, somehow.’
Consciously or not she is moving forward. Maybe De Vitry has a potentially better career ahead as a solo artist. It’s enjoyable to watch an artist grow as she reveals here. Let’s hope that her songwriting and her amazing voice, a real treasure, stay with us for a long time. Her songwriting has stepped up incrementally on this one. As that grows, her trajectory will rise.
- Jim Hynes