Spruce and Maple Music SMM 1012
Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick are paying tribute to one of the grittiest and greatest duets to ever play bluegrass, Vern Williams and Ray Park. The ladies set aside any niceties and get down to it with some of the most soulful vocals of their illustrious careers. That’s saying something. They’ve surrounded themselves with some of the best musicians on the West Coast including Tom Rozum, who captures a good taste of Vern’s mandolin style very nicely. Patrick Sauber provides some tasty banjo, along with Keith Little, a former bandmember with Vern after Ray’s death. Little adds some nice vocals as well as some fine banjo and guitar. Annie Staninec joins Laurie for some fine twin-fiddle touches. Sally Van Meter’s resonator guitar work adds just the right touches, keeping it real. Laurie not only sings here, but also plays the fiddle and bass.
A good bit of the material covered here appeared on an Old Homestead LP Sounds From The Ozarks. That album was full of great material and while not the best of recording quality, the hard-scrabble music jumped out of the grooves like something from a Depression Era 78. Laurie and Kathy have not only covered these old songs, they have breathed new life into them. “Cabin On A Mountain,” “Little Birdie,” “To Hell With The Land,” and “Montana Cowboy” capture the pure power of the originals. Laurie’s fiddling on “Flying Cloud” sneaks in some licks that Ray never recorded. The ladies dive headlong into “How Many Times” with all of the ferocity of the original. Keith Little and Tom Rozum add some third-part harmonies that are spot-on and make “Cowboy Jack” and “Down Along The Budded Roses” respectively rich and authoritative versions.
The icing on this stupendously fine cake is “Touch Of God’s Hand” featuring Keith Little’s lead vocal in the trio. As with the original recording on that old LP, this version takes your breath away. Vern and Ray gave a couple of banjo players, who went on to be big influences, their start. Herb Pedersen and Rick Shubb (yes, the capo guy) both played in their band back in the day. The performances on this CD cut to the bone. The sinewy attack of the vocals and instrumental performances are reminiscent of the classic recordings of Hazel & Alice nearly a half-century ago. These performances are every bit as good and timeless. This is great, honest, bluegrass like too few can make today—essential listening.(Spruce & Maple Music, P.O. Box 9417 Berkeley, CA 94709, www.laurielewis.com.)RCB