Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Alice Gerrard gets support from Hiss Golden Messenger on new album

Alice Gerrard's hard-hitting Follow The Music album is out now on Tompkins Square.

Alice Gerrard recently celebrated her 80th birthday but the respected folk-roots singer/songwriter isn't the slightest bit interested in a quiet retirement. If anything, Gerrard now seems to be busier than ever, following up last year's Laurie Lewis collabo Bittersweet with the new Follow The Music (Tompkins Square) album recorded with M.C. Taylor aka Hiss Golden Messenger and members of Megafaun.

If the goal of the unlikely pairing was to grab the attention of beard-stroking blogosphere gatekeepers hesitant to cover the music of any artist over the age of 39, let alone one with a bluegrass background, it worked. The appearance of a Pitchfork review earlier this week to coincide with the album's release was a surprise – that it was unreservedly positive (it rated a 7.4 for those who care about such things) was a shocker. In fact, this clever bit of misdirection put in play by Tompkins Square Records boss Josh Rosenthal was perhaps even more successful than the hype-savvy former Columbia promotions man and SONY marketing & sales rep had envisioned.  

Where the album conception of Taylor intersects with the haunting voice and stylistic bent of Gerrard appears to be on life's darker side in which crops fail, suitors harbour murderous intent and mother's bury their children. It's a place where both hot-tub country clowns and art-school Americana hipsters fear to tread but Gerrard has always found resonance since her brilliant Hazel & Alice recordings with longtime sidekick Hazel Dickens.

Since Dickens sadly passed in 2011, Gerrard has never found another singing partner with whom she could create such spellbinding harmonies, synthesizing the innovations of the Carter Family and Bill Monroe into a magical vocal blend that was wholly unique and profoundly moving. Let's just say without Hazel & Alice there would be no Freakwater and the duet singing of Emmylou Harris – who was schooled on the Washington, D.C. folk scene of the late 60s where Hazel & Alice held sway –  would sound very different.

Of course, Gerrard's maturely measured performances on Follow The Music don't have the raw power of those classic early Hazel & Alice sessions – which Smithsonian/Folkways has thoughtfully compiled on the excellent Pioneering Women of Bluegrass album – but her well-weathered howl can still get under your skin. Her much younger producer thankfully understands that. Our boy Taylor had the good sense to avoid the temptation to gussy things up with reverb and pitch correction software while keeping his Megafaun pals reigned in to their support role. Consequently Gerrard is allowed to do her thing and that's why Follow The Music will hit you harder than you think.

Alice Gerrard - site
Alice Gerrard - Follow The Music on iTunes
Washington Post: Alice Gerrard keeps adding to her legacy

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