The influence of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard continues to reverberate in bluegrass and Americana music. The two became pioneer women in the male-dominated world of bluegrass music in the 1960s, leaving their mark on generations of musicians and singers like Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and The Judds. A few years later California fiddler and singer Laurie Lewis looked to them for inspiration that has been key to her own 40-year-plus career. She’s honoring that legacy with this album-length tribute to Hazel and Alice.
And she’s handing down that legacy to yet another generation, as she incorporates young Oregon fiddler Tatiana Hargreaves into her band for several numbers on this delightful album, including the rollicking opener “Cowboy Jim” by Hazel Dickens, the traditional bluegrass breakdown “Walking In My Sleep,” the Carter Family favorite “Who’s That Knocking” and the smoking “Train On The Island,” another upbeat trad number.
Lewis’s guests cross many generations, including two of the finest singers of Americana of the past 50 years. Aoife O’Donovan joins Lewis for the knockout a capella song “James Alley Blues,” on which the two swap lead and harmony parts with deceptive ease. And this date wraps up with another a capella duet, this time featuring Lewis and Linda Ronstadt on “Pretty Bird.” This version of Dickinson’s composition was inspired by an arrangement by Cris Williamson and Teresa Trull way back in the ’80s, Lewis says in the liner notes. “Linda Ronstadt and I recorded it as part of a Rounder Records benefit CD for Hazel over 10 years ago. As of this writing, that record remains unreleased.” It’s such a treat to hear Ronstadt in full voice before that voice was stilled by Parkinson’s, and this track would be reason enough to buy the album.
But The Hazel and Alice Sessions has other delights as well. Not least of them is the steadiness of her band The Right Hands, particularly Tom Rozum’s rock-solid mandolin, backing vocals and even lead vocals on “Darling Nellie,” Patrick Sauber’s banjo, and Andrew Conklin’s double bass. Lewis herself plays some mean fiddle and Alice Gerrard joins for harmony vocals on Hazel’s jaunty, bluesy “Working Girl Blues.” Another highlight is the great Emry Arthur gospel song “Let That Liar Alone,” with multi-part harmonies including Harley Eblen on bass voice. And don’t miss Lewis’s beautiful lead vocal on Hazel’s deathbed ballad “Won’t You Come And Sing For Me” which also has lovely harmonies and Mike Witcher’s poignant Dobro.
Carrying forward the legacy of pioneers like Hazel and Alice, putting your own stamp on it as Laurie Lewis does here, and passing it along to another generation are all worthy of notice. The best part is, this is great music, too.
(Spruce and Maple, 2016)