"A Brief History"
"A Brief History" isn't what you'd call brief, really: 31 performances spread across a double-CD set, all recorded live save for one. But then, because Australia's ever-touring Waifs have a way of making time pass quickly when they're onstage, the neo-folk band's latest release doesn't seem all that long, either.
In fact, as career retrospectives go, this one moves along with surprisingly few hitches or lulls, offering an entertaining blend of favorites ("London Still," "Bridal Train," "Crazy Train"), kindred spirit covers (Willie Nelson's "Crazy" and Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright") and relatively new tunes ("Willow Tree" and "Papa"). The live tracks were drawn from concerts Down Under, so there was nothing preventing the band's core members -- sibling singers Donna and Vikki Simpson and singer-guitarist Josh Cunningham -- from creating a representative, if hardly seamless, sample of what they do best onstage. The shifting moods are inspired by heartfelt ballads, tradition-rooted narrative tales and romping country blues, with Cunningham's flat-picked guitar solos and Vikki Simpson's harmonica breaks often colorfully underscoring the band's cross-Atlantic ties. When Simpson blows harp a la Sonny Terry on "Crazy Train," there's no mistaking her ability to win over concertgoers in a flash.
In the end, though, what stands out most often -- even more so than the close rapport the quintet shares with its fans -- are the soulful vocals and the consistently impressive songwriting.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Tuesday at the Birchmere.