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Hedy West Hedy West
Album: From Granmaw And Me
Label: Fledg'ling
Tracks: 11

Justly regarded as one of the very finest folk revival singers of her generation, Hedy West died in 2005 at age 67, leaving as her final legacy this recording, the fruit of the last project she was to prepare – a project “offering a small proportion of the music that was gathered in (her) grandmother’s family over several generations”. The disc’s songs are interspersed with occasional snatches of narration by Hedy’s grandmother Lille Etta Mulkey West, who herself was responsible for choosing the songs Hedy performs here. Associated stories, as well as some lengthier passages of Granmaw’s commentary, are reproduced in the attractive accompanying booklet (typical of the Fledg’ling house-standard for loving presentation).

Hedy herself is in commanding form (even though the strain of encroaching ill-health was audibly beginning to take its toll at times). Hedy accompanies herself (on guitar or banjo) throughout, with extra accompaniment (on the majority of tracks) by Tracy Schwarz (mostly fiddle, sometimes guitar, and added vocal on one track), and isolated appearances by David Qualley (guitar on two tracks – Jack And Joe and Lil’ Old Mountain Shack, the latter song having been written by Hedy’s father Don); Eloise Schwarz adds a vocal part to a couple of songs too. The whole recording has something of a backporch house-party feel, with a seriously infectious sense of joy in the music-making that’s irresistible. At the same time, it’s abundantly clear that these songs carry deep resonances for Hedy; for instance, her note to the Two Sisters (Wind & The Rain) ballad, which is rivetingly performed here, reveals that the song reminded her grandmother of her own sister Molly’s tragic death.

The caveat is that it’s a woefully short album – a mere 29 minutes – but it’s nevertheless an important testament to Hedy’s role in the revival. Not surprising, then, that it’s likely worth the price of admission alone for four of the tracks: the rousing Once I Had An Old Grey Mare, the even more rousing gospeller finale The Uncloudy Day, the homily I’ll Never Get Drunk Anymore – a favourite of Granmaw’s brother Gus – and by some way the most enjoyable (IMHO) version of Frog Went Courting you’re likely to hear. And by the way, for those fearing duplication of repertoire, none of the songs on this new disc appear on the currently available reissues of Hedy West’s seminal Vanguard and Topic recordings. You want the real deal? This is authentic as they come – and essential for your old-time revival folk collection.

David Kidman