As they prepare for a short tour of venues in the Northeast and Northwest of the U.S., followed by a May 2017 visit to the U.K., Anna & Elizabeth are releasing an old-school seven-inch vinyl single that’s unlike anything they’ve done so far. It comes on the heels of a watermark year that saw them collaborating with Indonesian artists as well as playing all over the U.S., U.K., and Europe, including debut performances at both the Newport and Cambridge folk festivals. Their popularity has only grown since the 2015 release of their self-titled second full-length CD to rapturous reviews; and the re-release in 2016 of their debut recording, 2012’s Sun to Sun.
On this single, they present two traditional songs, “Hop High” and “Here In The Vineyard,” in non-traditional arrangements. Producers Alec Spiegelman and Benjamin Lazar Davis (both of the avant-pop outfit Cuddle Magic) have arranged these songs using electronics as well as strings, woodwinds and in the case of “Vineyard” a harmonium or pump organ.
If you can’t tell, I’m an enthusiastic fan of Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle and the music they make. They may raise some eyebrows with this new excursion, but I’m excited about it.
“Hop High” opens with a series of strident electronic blips that set the song’s tempo. You don’t know what to expect, but it’s probably not Anna’s delicate soprano singing “Where do you get those hightop shoes / and the dress that you wear so fine?” Soon she comes in with her clawhammer banjo in an odd tuning that, along with those electronic doinks and a backing ensemble of woodwinds, strings and piano, recalls an Indonesian gamelan orchestra. Anna picked up this special banjo tuning when the duo teamed up with two Indonesian performers as “Shadow Ballads,” a collaboration that drew musical parallels between Appalachia and Indonesia and explored the visual similarities of Anna & Elizabeth’s old-time picture show “crankies” and Bali shadow puppets.
The other song, “Here In The Vineyard,” is a well-known Appalachian hymn. Elizabeth’s reedy, quavering vocals are perfectly matched by the accompanying pump organ. She and Anna harmonize beautifully, and when the full arrangement kicks in after the second verse – including high droning electronica plus some sweetly mellow analog instruments – the effect is truly sublime.
Perhaps these two songs will be available on some other platform than a vinyl single, for those of you who don’t have a turntable. If you don’t have one or the other of their full-length releases, you should, and don’t miss them if they come to your town. Tour dates and more information on their website, where you can also stream “Hop High.”
“In The Vineyard” has long been a fixture of their performances. Here’s a traditional rendition.
(Free Dirt, 2016)