Laurie Lewis - Trees

Spruce and Maple Music

****

Laurie Lewis has been at the forefront of bluegrass music for years, playing in such outfits as the Phantoms of the Opry, the Good Ol’ Persons and Grant Street String Band, before becoming a band leader herself with Laurie Lewis and Grant Street, Laurie Lewis and her Bluegrass Pals, the Guest House Band and Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands. Though steeped in traditional music, she’s never shied away from taking her music in new and unexpected directions, yet still retaining a passion for the roots of the music. For more than 30 years she has worked closely, both live and on record, with long-time partner Tom Rozum. TREES is Laurie’s 24th album, and the first in 30 years that she’s made without mandolinist/vocalist Tom, who has Parkinsons and is no longer able to play or sing. It is her most poignant, reflective work yet, all sung in her signature warm, expressive voice full of grit, grace and an inner strength. She is accompanied by her regular band comprising Patrick Sauber (banjo), George Guthrie (guitar, banjo), Hasee Ciaccio (bass) and Brandon Godman (fiddle) alongside special guests Sam Reider (accordion), Nina Gerber (guitar) and Andrew Marlin (mandolin). Laurie’s modern folk songs, mainly influenced by nature and her passion for the land and natural world, are augmented by her peerless renditions of songs by Tom T. Hall, Mark Simos, Bill Morrisey, John Hartford and Kate MacLeod.

Laurie Lewis has never needed much more than her melodious voice for her songs to grab hold of you. You’ll find yourself tapping your feet and even singing along to the jaunty Just A Little Ways Down the Road, a nifty bluegrass ramble that turns the focus on her love for walking. Inspired by the California wildfires, Enough is a tender and somewhat sombre track, with George Guthrie’s plaintive banjo and Sam Reider’s haunting accordion creating an air of utter despair. Why’d You Have To Break My Heart, a moving and very personal fond farewell to the late John Prine, conveys a great sense of time, stillness, and reverence. Laurie is accompanied by Guthrie’s finely picked acoustic guitar, leaving just her wondrous voice for this beautiful reminisce of one the greatest songwriters of the past fifty years.

On the hymnic title song she leaves behind all instrumentation for an a capella performance in a quartet setting with Caccio, Guthrie and Tom Rozum, letting their soulful voices be in the spotlight. She sings, like a prophet, offering some foreboding manifesto on the strength of nature and, especially Trees, in keeping this ol’ world of ours from dying. She heads out west with the fiddle-driven Texas Wind, a song of yearning that tells the familiar story of a woman who pines for her lover far away. It’s given a neat arrangement of banjo, fiddle, and string bass, with harmony vocals that bring to mind a Marty Robbins western song done bluegrass style. 

She continues exploring unlikely musical pairings, as evidenced by the blues-and bluegrass-melding rendition of Tom T. Hall’s Hound Dog Blues. Utilising just string bass, fiddle and banjo, again with Hasee Ciaccio adding harmony vocals, this has a neat Jimmie Rodgers vibe to it. There’s a contented feel to John Hartford’s Down On The Levee, with some joyful banjo picking and tuneful fiddle; A cover of Kate MacLeod’s The Day Is Mine, puts Patrick Sauber’s banjo-picking skills and her ear for jazz-infused folk music at the forefront, as the group spiffs up the timeless tune. Laurie Lewis closes this superb collection with Rock The Pain Away. Not an expected up-tempo tune, but a gently healing lullaby for all those suffering in this crazy world. If you want a collection of songs that stirs the emotional cauldron from start to finish, I can think of none better than this.

https://laurielewis.com

June 2024