Spruce & Maple Music
One of the go-to sources for bluegrass songs in recent decades has been Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. If you want great, heartfelt songs of determination, of earthy realism, of a quality that are solidly traditional but often thematically genre non-specific, you could not do better. Many have gone to their repertoire for just those reasons and that includes Laurie Lewis, a performer of similar musical qualities, who chooses to honor Hazel and Alice with a 14-song set.
The results are what you would expect from Lewis and her current lineup of the Right Hands (mandolinist Tom Rozum, banjoist Patrick Sauber, and bassist Andrew Conklin). In fact, it might be argued that these songs draw something extra from her performance (and vice versa).
Hazel’s writing dominates here. She wrote five. The standouts include the slow, emotional song of memory and dying, “Won’t You Come And Sing For Me?,” her near standard status “You’ll Get No More From Me,” and the bluesy “Working Girl Blues.” Alice’s writing contributes only two songs, but they include the album’s most mesmerizing track, “Momma’s Gonna Stay.” A word-painting extra ordinaire, we follow a mother coming down stairs for coffee and contemplation before her family gets up and the usual chaos follows. To leave or stay is her daily dilemma and Lewis puts this across perfectly.
Interspersed are covers of Bill Monroe’s “I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling” sung by Rozum (I think) and the traditional numbers “Train On The Island,” “Darling Nellie,” and “Walking In My Sleep,” the latter recalling the Uncle Earl version vocally, but here is given more bluegrass strength. Standout is only a reference. This is all good. (Spruce & Maple Music, P.O. Box 9417, Berkeley, CA 94709, www.spruceandmaplemusic.com.)BW