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Boy, oh boy, what a beautiful album this is! From the stunning opening a cappella piece ‘How Can I Keep From Singing?’ the benchmark for the album is set to never waver. Although the final track, ‘Sirens’ isn’t something I‘m too enamoured with. However, the music previous to it features a feast of good stuff that borders on faultless.
There aren’t too many acts brave enough and, who could set away an album with such conviction. Plus with her old friend Kathy Kallick with whom she goes back to when they were in the Good Ol’ Persons and regular Tom Rozum in tow the arrangements are most exquisite.
What makes Lewis so special? For one her music crosses boundaries with ease akin to a kid crossing the street as folk, country and bluegrass merge into one. Two; she is a wonderful fiddle player, guitarist, vocalist and knows how to make an album that combines not only the above categories yet a smattering of other flavours too without losing focus.
While she pens the majority of tunes, and why not since she is a great songwriter Lewis also finds room for ‘Lark In The Morning’ from fellow singer-songwriter Kate MacLeod, to which she does justice. While with her excelling on twin-fiddle (w/ Brittany Hass) a poem by Wendell Berry ‘Burley Coulter’s Song For Helen Branch’ is converted into a song you could easily take as a Lewis original. Such the fashion it unerringly skips along, and has her sing as good as at any time on the album.
Like a few more Laurie takes time to acknowledge the work of California’s late pioneering singer-songwriter, Kate Wolf on covering her song ‘Unfinished Life’. A song deep in melodic hues a great beauty is registered as Rozum helps out on harmony vocals alongside Alex Hargreaves (fiddle), Todd Philips (bass), fresh from working with Joan Baez and the impeccable acoustic guitar of David Grier. By way of increasing her ratio of fiddle playing on the album Lewis includes two splendid instrumentals; her own ‘Sophie’s House’ (a twin-fiddle piece with an act I am unfamiliar, Suzy Thompson) and traditional tune ‘Beaver Creek’ that features her banjo player Craig Smith. While ‘Return The Fire’ is another a cappella track and, like in the past it has Lewis take up something she is most passionate about. This time it is in the form of Vietnam Veterans, then to give some light and shade ‘Here Today’ has a fabulous lilt as Tom Rozum (mandolin, vocals) Patrick Sauber (banjo, vocals) and her co-writing partner and also band member Scott Huffman on vocals entwine with lush fiddle (Chad Manning) and upright bass (Andrew Conklin). Her use of a couple of phrases from an old gospel tune fit perfectly as once again she strikes top form!
With Johnny Cash’s ‘Train Of Love’ (recorded for a Johnny Cash tribute) burning up the tracks as fiddle (Darol Anger) and the dazzling slide guitar of Roy Rogers and the boys —that include Billy Lee Lewis (drums) plus the pure heart-tugging ‘Chains Of Letters’ that sees guitarist Nina Gerber pick some fabulous notes and the acoustic bass of Todd Sickafoose lend sympathetic support Lewis’ true to life lyrics register deep into the mind of the listener.
The late Kate Wolf may be reaping plaudits and, quite rightly so as California’s finest ever of her kind, but Laurie Lewis has a bunch of songs equal to them!
As a variation, the entertaining ‘Cool Your Jets’ and the marathon affair ‘Sirens’ find a home alongside ‘The Roughest Road’ (with Tim O’Brien on vocals) and a sombre ‘Tell Me True’ that was previously on Birdsong. A benefit recording for Audubon Canyon Ranch (a bird sanctuary in Northern California) like with the ‘Cool Your Jets’ that also has spoken word from NPR’s Tom and Ray Magliozzi the beautiful harmony vocals of the Burns Sisters adorn it like blossom fruit trees in spring.
Blossoms is a must buy for fans of acoustic singer-songwriter recordings, and a good place to start for those unfamiliar with Laurie and friends who accompany her.
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