Spruce and Maple Music
Starting off a CD with an a cappella number is a gutsy move. But Alice Gerrard and producer Laurie Lewis are gutsy musicians. Bittersweet, Alice’s first solo CD in ten years, finds the two friends combining their considerable talents to showcase thirteen strong originals by Alice. Laurie and her cohorts came up with sparse, understated arrangements, then Alice stepped up, bared her soul, and sang her heart out with quiet intensity. As she said, “I finally decided…it was time for me to do a complete album in my own voice—my songs.”
As the founder of the Old-Time Herald, Alice might be expected to deliver a project with an old-time feel. Instead, supported by Bryan Sutton, Todd Phillips, Stuart Duncan, Tom Rozum, Rob Ickes and the gentle harmonies of Laurie and Tom, she explores multiple musical avenues such as the funky blues of “Somebody Have Mercy,” the rock-and-roll rhythm of “Unexpected Love,” the pulsing slow-dance intensity of “Maybe This Time,” and the jazzy “Payday At The Mill.” On the latter, Alice gives a nod to her politics as she sings about a weekday working woman, a weekend queen/A time clock lady with a lazy dream who is just right for Saturday night because it’s payday at the mill. Only the stark modal tones and clawhammer banjo of “Borderland” hark back to some of Alice’s seminal work.
I have long been a big fan of Alice’s songwriting from her early “Mary Johnson” and “Beaufort County Jail” to “Agate Hill” from her 1994 album Pieces Of My Heart. But the songs on Bittersweet have a particular richness that perhaps comes from a long life lived well. For Alice, it’s not all roses, but it’s not all snow, either. If the words of the title number speak of trying to hold on like a tumble-down house, the last song jauntily proclaims: sitting in the sun feeling sexy…sun keep a-shining on me. And I hope it does Alice, for years to come. Thanks for sharing your heart on this outstanding album. (Spruce & Maple Music, P.O. Box 9417, Berkeley, CA 94709, www.spruceandmaplemusic.com.)MHH