Reviews

Kathy Kallick & Laurie LewisKathy Kallick & Laurie Lewis
Album: … sing the songs of Vern and Ray
Label: Spruce & Maple
Tracks: 18
Website: http://www.laurielewis.com
http://www.laurielewis.com

Kathy and Laurie are two of the most highly-respected singers-cum-songwriters in the world of contemporary bluegrass. They started out as founding members, in the mid-70s, of groundbreaking northern California bluegrass outfit The Good Ol’ Persons, where their friendship was forged and nurtured before they moved on to other things including leading their own bands, only once (in 1991) getting back together to record a duo album, somewhat appropriately entitled Together. One of that disc’s tracks was a cover of the Carter Family standard Little Annie, a song they’d learnt from the repertoire of Vern and Ray (Vern Williams and Ray Park). Vern and Ray, originally from Arkansas, had proved enormously influential in the spread of bluegrass in 1960s and 70s California, their raw, immediate energy and innate integrity proving a key inspiration for Laurie, Kathy and many other aspiring bluegrass musicians of that time.

Here on this new album Kathy and Laurie are reunited in order to pay sincere (and arguably overdue) tribute to the legacy of Vern and Ray by performing a generous selection of songs (and one tune) that were associated with them. There was obviously no desire on their part to replicate, or deliver a slavish copy of, the Vern and Ray sound, but Kathy and Laurie invoke with uncanny intensity the spirit and essence of those raw, pioneering recordings in the tremendous sense of togetherness they display here. If you thought Kathy and Laurie’s Together album was pretty darned good, then you’re sure to be stopped in your tracks by this new offering. It’s a scintillating old-time-reunion disc, a tribute album that sings and plays this music straight from the heart and with total, unbridled authenticity.

It may sound like I’m peddling a cliché, but honestly, you’ll likely never want to hear another version of Oh Susanna once you’ve heard this album’s rip-roaring opener. And the album never lets up thereafter; whatever the tempo, things really motor along, from the hell-for-leather Black-Eyed Susie and Blue Grass Style to the relaxed rolling My Clinch Mountain Home and the appealingly poised Down Among The Budded Roses (the latter’s one of two tracks to feature some delicious resophonic slide guitar from guest – and erstwhile fellow-GOP – Sally Van Meter, the other being My Old Kentucky Home). Sure, the kudos and achievement of this marvellous tribute album is down to the fantastic core teaming of Kathy and Laurie, who were just born to sing together; the way they share and swop lead and harmony vocal parts is miraculous, and they both have voices to die for. But there’s also no cause to undersell the brilliant ancillary contributions from Patrick Sauber (banjo), Tom Rozum (mandolin, and also harmony vocal on three cuts), Annie Stanimec (twin fiddle on Cowboy Jack and the absolutely gorgeous Thinkin’ Of Home) and Keith Little (banjo and/or harmony vocal on five cuts, and he’s also invited to step up to the mic for lead vocal and guitar duty on the closing track, Touch Of God’s Hand). Finally, in the way of an interlude we’re treated to a spirited instrumental outing (Flying Cloud).

That last word "spirited" can be heard to apply to the whole project, which boasts a recording with loads of presence and immediacy, and just a touch of wildness, a quality that’s exactly right for the music. This is the most fitting of tributes, performed with all due enthusiasm, affection and sympathy by the most fitting of bluegrass practitioners.

David Kidman

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