A musical self-portrait
From her pioneering bluegrass years with Hazel Dickens to her partnership with Mike Seeger, her years as apprentice to Mount Airy fiddler Tommy Jarrell, and numberless other formal and ad hoc collaborations, Alice Gerrard has followed the music wherever its tones have led.
“Follow the Music,” produced by Hiss Golden Messenger’s M.C. Taylor, is a reflection of Gerrard’s prolific and eclectic career. Arguably one of her finest recordings, this musical self-portrait finds Gerrard reflective at home in America’s hills and hollows, hearth-lit parlors and intimate honky-tonks.
Opening with fiddle droning a sad-lonesome moan, the singer revisits memories of childhood with the poignant prayer-song “Bear Me Away”:
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“Bear Me Away on the breeze of the morning/Bear me away to my old home far away/Let me sit down by the old family Bible/Down by the window where my mother used to pray.”
Clawhammer banjo’s modal haunt infuses Gerrard’s “Strange Land,” a song of alienation inspired by the immigrants living in her Durham neighborhood. Leona Williams’ “You Take Me for Granted” and her own “Love Was the Price” lament the losing side of love. Gerrard, whose singing style calls to mind Sara Carter of the famous Carter Family, leavens the mood with the mischievous “Boll Weevil,” a nature-culture battle tale learned from Jarrell.
These and other delights are given tasteful, restrained backing from a cast of fine musicians, including Brad and Phil Cook, Bobby Britt, Gail Gillespie, Rayna Gellert and others with whom Gerrard has performed through the years.
Old-time, bluegrass, country or folk – it’s been all the same quest for Gerrard who, decade-by-creative-decade, has stayed true to her heart: “If I follow the music to where I want to go/It will take me to safe harbors and guide me home.”
Correspondent Jack Bernhardt