Skippin' and Flyin' ~ CD Reviews
John Lupton ~ Singout! 11/24/12
Though virtually unknown east of the Mississippi until the mid-1980s, the past three decades have seen Laurie Lewis establish herself as one of the leading lights of American acoustic music, a genuine national treasure. Though best known for the bluegrass she’s performed with her various bands over the years (Grant Street, the Bluegrass Pals, the Right Hands) as well as on solo projects, she’s also branched out into country, swing, blues and anything else that highlights her sweet-yet-earthy voice and elemental fiddle playing. It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that if the “Americana” format wasn’t invented for her, it should have been.
Released last year, this is her personal tribute to and remembrance of Bill Monroe in the centennial year of his birth. Like countless others she found inspiration not only in his music, but in the man himself, and it’s no coincidence the album photography features her dressed to the nines, Blue Grass Boy style, circa 1950s – right down to the crisp, pristine Stetson. There are, of course, Monroe tunes – three of them, in fact: “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”; “Old Ten Broeck” (a traditional tune Monroe worked up as “Molly And Ten Brooks”; and “A Lonesome Road”, associated with Monroe, though written by Joe Earle Stuart.
She also gives nods to the people before and after Monroe without whom bluegrass would not have become what it is, the Carter Family (“Carter’s Blues”), Jimmie Rodgers (“Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues”) and Flatt and Scruggs (“What’s Good For You”). Her own originals like “The Pharaoh’s Daughter” and “American Chestnuts” are worthy additions, but perhaps the most attention-grabbing track is contemporary singer-songwriter Mark Erelli’s “Hartfordtown 1944”, about a tragic circus fire. All exquisitely arranged and performed, this is Laurie Lewis as good as she’s ever been.
Jack Bernhardt ~ News-Observer, Durham, NC 11/7/11
Two-time Female Vocalist of the Year Laurie Lewis is not your typical bluegrass star. Raised in California's left-liberal Bay Area, Lewis tends to favor songs that promote social justice and champion environmental concerns.
And while her voice is more folk/Americana than Kentucky high lonesome, Lewis is, gloriously, a bluegrass fiddler, songwriter, singer, and bandleader, whose roots are planted firmly in soil lovingly tilled by the "Father of Bluegrass," Bill Monroe.
The CD's title is taken from a verse of "Old Ten Broeck," a Monroe classic that he recorded under the title, "Molly and Tenbrooks," and which celebrates a race between the two champion horses on July 4, 1878. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Monroe's birth in 1911, this bluegrass favorite kicks off 14 tracks which, Lewis writes in the liner notes, are "drawn from the same wellsprings" that informed Monroe's muse.
With first-rate musicians, including Tar Heel superpickers Craig Smith on banjo and Scott Huffman on guitar, Lewis covers plenty of ground with engaging covers and thoughtful originals. Covers include the Flatt and Scruggs pronouncement on gender equity "What's Good for You (Should be All Right for Me)," Tompall Glaser's "I Don't Care Anymore," the old-time smiler "I Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow," Jimmie Rodgers' "Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues" (to which Lewis adds a verse and some fine yodeling), and Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky."
Lewis' "The Pharaoh's Daughter" celebrates the woman who disobeyed her father and saved the life of Moses. And with "American Chestnuts," she laments the near extinction of "these once-plentiful and beneficent beings."
Lewis leaves us with the contemplative "Going Away," a song written by the late hobo/entertainer U. Utah Phillips, who rode the rails as comfortably as most of us ride in cars: "Is that the moon I see, shining there in the west/Or just the headlight's gleam, C&O Express?"
-Joe Sixpack ~ Slipcue.com
"A sweet, joyful birthday centennial celebration of the late, great bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe, and the music he created... This album is traditionally-oriented, but not quite as stark or severe as Monroe's own recordings could be... Lewis gives the music a softer touch, both stylistically and emotionally, embracing a very full-of-life, thankful-to-have-Monroe's-music-in-my-world kind of vibe. It's not strictly a Bill Monroe tribute, more of a broad-based homage, with songs from the repertoires of Jimmie Rodgers, Flatt & Scruggs, Del McCoury, Utah Phillips and others, as well as some Laurie Lewis originals, but all with a familiar feel that fits into the grand, 'grassy scheme of things. Along for the ride are several longtime Lewis collaborators, such as Tom Rozum, Todd Phillips and banjoists Craig Smith and Patrick Sauber. It's another class act from this California bluegrass mainstay... Fun and full of feeling!"
Ken Morton, Jr. ~ Engine145 ~ Engine145.com
Some 2000 miles from the birthplace of bluegrass, a fiddle player named Laurie Lewis has been making her own brand of Northern California bluegrass for many years. She's twice been named IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year and even taken home a Grammy for her work in the field. In this musical dedication to Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass Music, Lewis has collected a mix of important-to-her covers and originals that makes up a who's who of writers and original performers. A peek through liner notes reveals names like Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, The Carter Family, Wanda Jackson, Del McCoury, Mother Maybelle Carter, Jimmie Rodgers and Wilma Lee Cooper.
The covers are inspired. On "A Lonesome Road" (written by Blue Grass Boy Joe Stuart and recorded by Monroe) Lewis sings the mournful lyrics in a matching sorrowful style... The Tompall Glaser-written "I Don't Care Anymore" is a delicious relationship kiss off tune that shows off Lewis' fiddle chops (editor's note: Chad Manning plays fiddle on this cut). "Blue Moon of Kentucky" is another more than capable Monroe dedication where Tom Rozum plays some beautiful mandolin and Lewis finishes in a fantastic falsetto finish. A couple of singing angels also lend their vocals to the project as well. Linda Ronstadt sings harmony on the Flatt and Scruggs classic "What's Good for You (Should Be Alright for Me)" and Del McCoury's "Dreams." Dale Ann Bradley adds harmony on the "I Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow."
Though the classic covers are superb, interestingly enough, it is the originals and modern tracks that stand out even more and make this album special. "Pharoh's Daughter" is a thoughtful and introspective look into the adoptive mother of Moses who defied edict after edict and kept a baby who would change the world. The baritone that chimes in on the chorus gives the song an incredible vocal sense of depth. "Hartfordtown 1944" covers the true story of a tragic circus fire in Hartford that killed over 150 people. It's told from a fascinating perspective of a child grounded at home, not able to attend "the greatest show on earth." "American Chestnuts" is a rich instrumental mosaic about the plague that decimated the chestnut tree population across the eastern sea board. Lewis gives the trees a voice and personality-and more importantly, human relevance. "Each year we send up our silver shoots and we will rise again," she sings eloquently.
Lewis set out to honor those that paved the way before her. By selecting songs that helped chart her own course and penning a couple tracks that help move the bluegrass road a little farther down the line, she's done just that-and well.
Donald Teplyske ~ Country Standard Time
"I've been told that I have a tendency to occasionally write more than people want to read, given these days of shorter attention spans and such. So here is the capsule review: West coast bluegrass maven Laurie Lewis pays the ultimate tribute to Bill Monroe by exploring his roots and branches in ways that he may not have imagined. 5 stars; 9.5/10; 93.7/100; Essential listening."
2011 has been deemed by the greater bluegrass community as 'the year of Bill Monroe.' In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth, the Father of Bluegrass has been feted far and wide: tribute bands have performed and tribute albums and songs have been recorded and released, some very good and some simply bordering on exploitive. Even Garrison Keeler and his Prairie Home Companion friends are getting in on the act, taking the show on the road to Kentucky in November for an evening of Bill Monroe music and stories featuring several Blue Grass Boys.
The most impressive Bill Monroe tribute to arrive this autumn may also be the most understated. Nowhere on the cover of "Skippin' and Flyin'" is Mr. Monroe mentioned or illustrated. Rather, Laurie Lewis appears in full-blown Blue Grass Boy regalia, dressed with the same precision of style and substance that has been her hallmark for the past several decades as one of bluegrass and acoustiblue music's beautiful flowers.
Also unlike most of the previously released projects- and again, some of them have been quality albums assembled for the 'right' reasons- "Skippin' and Flyin'" is not simply a collection of 10 or 15 Monroe tunes recorded by a contemporary band. Rather, "Skippin' and Flyin'"goes to the heart of Mr. Monroe's music, exploring its soul and his motivations and influences. This is an album that embraces elements of those Mr. Monroe himself recorded.
While Mr. Monroe didn't follow any rules other than his own, it wasn't unusual for him to record songs from folk, country, and mountain traditions. One of his substantial talents was for making those songs seem entirely new in his hands. At the same time, he would sometimes go back to his own catalogue and breathe fresh life into songs he recorded many years previously. Mr. Monroe also had a talent for identifying and recording songs from contemporary writers. From all I've learned, he had affection for the blues and brought disparate rhythms into his music, making it all work through his intense vision of what was right for his music. Of course, he also wrote songs- great songs, 'true songs,' songs that will last.
The above also clearly describes Laurie Lewis' beautiful project, "Skippin' and Flyin'". As she writes in her detailed, insightful, and very personal liner notes, "Bill Monroe was not a follower of styles but steadfastly played his singular music through the good times and the tough, inspiring me with his example to be free to explore my own musical path. Almost all of the songs here are performed with a 'traditional' bluegrass band: fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, and bass. All of the harmony singing stems directly from the school of Bill Monroe."
Laurie Lewis is no newcomer to bluegrass music, having played almost every festival there is and having recorded excellent albums over the years, "The Golden West" and "Laurie Lewis & Her Bluegrass Pals" being just two. However, she has never narrowed her field and has recorded some of the finest folk-inspired music of the past three decades, among them her incredible collaborations with Tom Rozum "The Oak and the Laurel" and the under-heralded "Guest House."
She has always been versatile, performing as a duo with Rozum or leading a full-fledged bluegrass band with equal effectiveness and charisma. As a musician, she is frequently called on to provide session fiddle and vocal performances and to augment an established group. In a one week period two years back I saw her filling in with Kathy Kallick- a frequent singing partner- in a Red Deer bluegrass setting and the next weekend filling in with Dave Alvin's hard-hitting Guilty Women at Hardly Strictly.
She has at least one signature song, Who Will Watch the Home Place? Kate Long's exceptional song that was awarded the IBMA's Song of the Year award in 1994. She has also been awarded the same organization's Female Vocalist of the Year award twice and has been nominated frequently.
"Skippin' and Flyin'" takes its name from Old Ten Broeck, which opens this magnificent 55-minute album: "Old Ten Broeck is skippin' and gone away, Old Ten Broeck is skippin' and flyin'."
Lewis has taken this instantly recognizable precursor to Molly and Tenbrooks, a song frequently performed by Bill Monroe, back to its roots in the music of The Carver Boys and Cousin Emmy while working in elements from Mike Seeger and Monroe. Thank goodness for artists, like Lewis, who believe in the value of song notes!
As she does throughout the album, Lewis doesn't simply mimic what Bill Monroe did in 1947 and 1957; she goes deeper, exploring what he may have heard and been impacted by in earlier years. In doing so, she gets to the roots of Bill Monroe in ways that many other artists have not attempted in 2011.
She takes a very different tack with Blue Moon of Kentucky. It is almost as if Lewis is saying, 'This is Monroe, and we'll honour him by performing it as he did." Lewis takes liberty with the chorus, switching up the 'left me blue' and 'proved untrue' lines, but otherwise maintains the spirit of the early, pre-Elvis Monroe recordings of the song, including an extended, mournful fiddle feature.
The final 'Monroe' song included on "Skippin' and Flyin'" is also the lonesome-est. As recorded here by Lewis and her usual touring band (Rozum, Scott Huffman, Craig Smith, and Todd Phillips) A Lonesome Road, recorded by Monroe in 1957, is blue and bluesy and works nicely in tempo with the album's mid-set flavour. A similar mood with a very different execution is found on Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues, a flirty tune Lewis learned from Wanda Jackson.
Songs from Del McCoury (Dreams) and Flatt & Scruggs are also included, I imagine because- as Lewis writes in the notes- "If Bill Monroe hadn't come along, there probably wouldn't have been Flatt & Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, or any of the modern bluegrass bands you hear today." (And, before shorts get twisted too tightly, she continues: "But there would have been and would be someone playing some sort of tradition-based string band music. And it would hold appeal for many people today, just as it has for generations.")
So we have fresh interpretations of What's Good For You (Should Be Alright for Me), as fine a justification for cheatin' and hurtin' as has been written, and I Don't Care Anymore. Going back even further, Carter's Blues (from the American tradition) and Fair Beauty Bright (from the British)- two ribbons well-mined by Monroe- are included. Tom Rozum's mandola offerings on the latter tune are haunting and ideal.
On the contemporary front, Lewis offers stellar gems. Mark Erelli's lyrically rich song of devastation Hartfordtown 1944 is given a full-blown bluegrass setting (and check out his version on 2006's exceptional "Hope & Other Casualties," the album that convinced me that Erelli is every bit as 'good' as the singer-songwriters you have heard). While Monroe never heard the song, one can imagine that he might have given it more than a passing nod.
I've often stated that everything I know and appreciate about religion has been learned through bluegrass songs, and Lewis continues my education withThe Pharaoh's Daughter. Expanding on the story of Moses, Lewis tells of what became of his rescuer. In an entirely different manner, Lewis shares her admiration for lost giants of Appalachia; American Chestnuts is Lewis's take on an ecological Rise Again, a promise that that which is lost will return.
I believe that leaves only two tracks unmentioned, Wilma Lee Cooper's I Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow and Going Away which comes from Utah Phillips. With Cooper's passing last month, I Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow serves then as a tribute to one of the leading ladies of country and bluegrass music and it is entirely appropriate that today's first lady of bluegrass, Dale Ann Bradley, joins in on harmony.
Similarly, and yet entirely differently, Lewis acknowledges Phillips by performing his Going Away in a style that would have been out-of-place on a Monroe album but which is entirely sensible within the context of "Skippin' and Flyin'."
Fifteen hundred-plus words to analyze an album of 14-songs? There is something to be said for brevity, but in the case of "Skippin' and Flyin'" fewer words wouldn't do, at least for me. Better writers than I will be able to distil the essence of this artistic creation, but for me it took all these words to capture what I believe is a beautiful and landmark album.
Laurie Lewis has created many excellent albums, and may have recorded 'better' ones than this. But none have been more important or have impacted me more. By exploring Bill Monroe- his music, his tradition, his influences- in this manner she has paid him the ultimate tribute.
The bluegrass album of 2011? Perhaps not, but on my list with Dale Ann's "Somewhere South of Crazy," Blue Highway's "Sounds of Home," Junior Sisk's "The Heart of a Song," and Alison Krauss & Union Station's "Paper Airplane."
Andrew Gilbert ~ Berkeleyside
Berkeley's musical blessings are bountiful, but I'm going to start this holiday season by giving thanks for Laurie Lewis.
Creatively ambitious and utterly unpretentious, steeped in tradition but doggedly progressive, Lewis is a gifted fiddler, deft guitarist, inspired songwriter and powerfully evocative singer. A creative force on the Bay Area bluegrass scene for decades, the long-time Berkeley resident has mentored several generations of brilliant young string players, while also honing an impressive body of evocative original songs (projects that she releases on her own label, Spruce and Maple Music).
Lewis showcases both sides of her musical life on her new album "Skippin' and Flyin'," a loving tribute to bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe on the 100th anniversary of his birth. She celebrates the album's release Saturday at Freight & Salvage, where she'll be joined by most of the album's cast, including her long-time musical partner Tom Rozum on mandolin and vocals, fiddler Chad Manning, bassist Todd Phillips and Patrick Sauber on banjo.
Lewis explores several numbers indelibly linked to Monroe ("A Lonesome Road" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky") but casts a much wider net, covering songs recorded by his antecedents (The Carter Family and Jimmy Rogers) and his musical progeny (Flatt and Scruggs). My favorite song is one of Lewis's own devising, "The Pharaoh's Daughter," a gorgeous ode to the biblical heroine who saved Moses and then promptly disappeared from the book of Exodus.
While the album features several illustrious guests - Linda Ronstadt, Kathy Kallick, Dale Ann Bradley and Nadine Landry all contribute harmony vocals - the most notable creative connection is between Lewis and Rozum. They started performing together in 1987 when he joined her band Grant Street, a talent-laden combo that boosted the careers of string experts like banjo player Tony Furtado and guitarist Scott Nygaard. But after a serious car wreck in Arizona in 1994, the sudden confrontation with mortality led Lewis and Rozum to focus on honing the duo act they'd long thought about pursuing.
"We felt like it was something we wanted to do, and knowing everything could be over at any time, we made it a priority," Lewis says.
Released under both their names, their first post-crash album "The Oak and the Laurel" (Rounder) earned a 1996 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Album. Showcasing their restrained high lonesome harmonies, they explored classic old-time tunes by the Louvin Brothers, the Carter Family and Peter Rowan with a cast of string stars including Mike Marshall, Nina Gerber and Darol Anger.
Keenly aware that each gig is a singular communion they've thrived in each other's company ever since, whether performing with Lewis's Bluegrass Pals, working in a duo format, interpreting bluegrass standards or playing Lewis's originals. And that's something to be very thankful for.
Laurie Lewis' new CD, SKIPPIN' AND FLYIN', is a personal tribute to the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, and mixes songs from the bluegrass repertoire and contemporary writers and Lewis' originals. In turns lively, exciting, deep and heartfelt, the songs feature Lewis' expressive vocals and instrumentation by GRAMMY Award-winning bassist Todd Phillips, the legendary Craig Smith on banjo, and mandolinist/vocalist Tom Rozum. Linda Ronstadt is among the special guests.
Blossoms ~ CD Reviews
County Sales Newsletter #308 ~ October 2010
It has been a while since we have seen a new album by Laurie Lewis, but this one is certainly a fine addition to her previous work. The recording hits full force right from track 1 with a lovely unaccompanied rendition of How Can I Keep From Singing.
Other really notable cuts include the traditional Beaver Creek with Laurie's fiddling backed by Craig Smith on banjo and Tom Rozum on mandolin, plus a superb Burley Coulter's Song for Kate Branch, with Laurie's fiddling here backed by Brittany Haas' second fiddle and the cello playing of Tristan Claridge (he of Crooked Still fame). No producer credits are listed (we assume it is Ms. Lewis), but the arrangements are excellent and Laurie has wisely called on some superior musicians for backing., including David Grier (guitar), Todd Phillips (bass), Tim O'Brien and Darol Anger. A very nice record here that showcases Laurie's fine, soulful singing.
Steven Stone ~ Vintage Guitar Magazine, January, 2011
Laurie Lewis is a bluegrass pioneer, and her latest release showcases the breadth of her musical talent-singing, songwriting, and playing guitar and fiddle.
Lewis enlists the help of long-time musical partner Tom Rozum on mandolin, octave mandolin, and vocals. The roster also includes David Grier, Nina Gerber, and Scott Huffman on guitar, Roy Rogers on slide guitar; Alex Hargreaves, Brittany Haas, and Darol Anger on fiddles.
The music on Blossoms isn't strictly bluegrass. Instead, it's a celebration of diversity with spirituals such as "How Can I Keep From Singing?", followed by folkier songs such as Kate MacLeod's "Lark in the Morning." Lewis' original songs go from winsome ballads such as "Chains of Letters" to Carribean-flavored rap songs like "Cool Your Jets,' which features 'Car Talk" brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi contributing spoken parts. In between are the dual fiddle instrumental "Sophie's House" and an a cappella rendition of "Return to the Fire."
Blossoms serves as a wonderful introduction for new Lewis fans and a big ol' hug for long-timers.
Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA) ~ Driftwood
After nearly a decade of bluegrass and duo albums, Laurie Lewis's Blossoms sees her returning to the singer/songwriter format, blending sensitive and playful originals with some inspired covers. The disc opens with a lush a cappella version of "How Can I Keep From Singing" sung by Lewis, Kathy Kallick, and longtime partner Tom Rozum. Kate MacLeod's wistful "Lark in the Morning" is a natural for Lewis to cover; it features an interesting blend of banjo, violin, mandola and cello. Other covers include a faithful rendition of Kate Wolf's "Unfinished Life" and a rocking version of Johnny Cash's "Train of Love" that features Roy Rogers on slide guitar. Lewis' strong suit has always been writing about relationships. Here, she revisits lost love with "Chains of Letters," reflects on a partnership filled with challenges in "The Roughest Road," and considers the impermanence of life in "Here Today," which she penned with Scott Huffman. She ventures into vocal jazz with the playful "Cool Your Jets," which features the Burns sisters and a cameo by NPR's Tom and Ray Magliozzi. The lush disc closer, "Sirens," finds Lewis working with a combo that includes piano, trombone, and saxophone. The disc's most elegant piece is "Burley Coulter's Song for Kate Helen Branch," a Wendell Berry poem that Lewis fitted to a brisk melody and a stirring fiddle riff. Several years in the making,Blossoms was well worth the wait.
Stephanie P. Ledgin ~ Sing Out! Summer 2010
Captivating from its opening notes, Blossoms continues the exceptional level of excellence Laurie Lewis has maintained throughout her career. Joining her are many outstanding musicians and vocalists, among them Tom Rozum, Kathy Kallick, the Burns Sisters, Darol Anger, Alex Hargreaves, Todd Phillips and Tim O'Brien, to name but a few.
Looking to the repertoire of Pete Seeger, Lewis, Kallick and Rozum open the recording a cappella with "How Can I Keep From Singing?" setting the tone for this outstanding selection of 14 cuts, most of which are originals. It is Laurie's voice alone, solemnly singing "Return to the Fire," her nod to Vietnam veterans. For her instrumental "Sophie's House," Lewis has recruited Suzy Thompson to twin fiddle, no other instrumentation used. This is followed in sequence by the only other instrumental on the CD, "Beaver Creek," where Craig Smith picks banjo alongside Laurie's fiddle and Rozum's mandolin, giving a bright delivery on the traditional piece.
With mature, powerfully expressive vocals, Laurie easily switches her emotive voice to suit the occasion. From the lively "Burley Coulter's Song for Kate Helen Branch" to the reflective "Here Today" to showing off a humorous bent, singing with the Burns Sisters on "Cool Your Jets," written while stuck in a traffic jam, she embraces faithfully each subject at hand. A past love is revealed in her touching "Chains of Letters."
Lewis includes the exquisite "Unfinished Life," from the pen of the prolific Kate Wolf, one of her inspirations. "Lark in the Morning" by Kate MacLeod is also wonderfully portrayed.
With its instrumentation and guest musicians, this CD will not disappoint Laurie's bluegrass fans. Yet this project reaches far beyond, into the indistinct realm of folk, Americana and cutting-edge singer-songwriter. Blossoms is a stunning release, filled with extraordinary originality and musicality.
Mike Thomas ~ Accoustic Guitar
One of the contemporary acoustic music scene's most skilled and enduring performers returns with a diverse 14-song set that manages to both ring soothingly familiar and expand the artist's parameters in rewarding new directions. Longtime listeners steeped in Lewis's formidable catalog of bluegrass (both traditional and "newgrass") and poignant folk balladry will slip into gems such as "The Roughest Road" and the gospel-kissed a cappella opening track "How Can I Keep From Singing?" like a treasured old pair of scuffed and supple leather boots. Less predictable but no less compelling are tracks like "Cool Your Jets," a finger-poppin', jazzy groover that features a cameo recitation by none other than National Public Radio's beloved "Click and Clack," Ray and Tom Magliozzi. Also from a bit outside the box come "Burley Coulter's Song for Kate Helen Branch," a chamber-folk jewel performed on two violins and cello, and the set-closing "Sirens," a sophisticated, cross-genre ballad with guest vocals from Noe Venable. As always, Lewis, who anchors the proceedings on acoustic rhythm guitar and fiddles up a storm throughout, surrounds herself with a sterling supporting cast that includes guitarists David Grier and Nina Gerber, fiddler Darol Anger, mandolinist Tom Rozum, and singers Kathy Kallick and Tim O'Brien.
Maurice Hope ~ Flyinshoes Review
Boy, oh boy, what a beautiful album this is! From the stunning opening a cappella piece 'How Can I Keep From Singing?' the benchmark for the album is set to never waver. Although the final track, 'Sirens' isn't something I'm too enamoured with. However, the music previous to it features a feast of good stuff that borders on faultless.
There aren't too many acts brave enough and, who could set away an album with such conviction. Plus with her old friend Kathy Kallick with whom she goes back to when they were in the Good Ol' Persons and regular Tom Rozum in tow the arrangements are most exquisite.
What makes Lewis so special? For one her music crosses boundaries with ease akin to a kid crossing the street as folk, country and bluegrass merge into one. Two; she is a wonderful fiddle player, guitarist, vocalist and knows how to make an album that combines not only the above categories yet a smattering of other flavours too without losing focus.
Live ~ CD Reviews
Pete Milano, Bluegrassconnection.com
Mike Regenstreif, Montreal Gazette
LAURIE LEWIS & THE RIGHT HANDS, Live (Spruce & Maple Music) The terrific fiddler, singer and bandleader comes through with one of the best live bluegrass albums of recent years. ****
JACK BERNHARDT, Correspondent, News and Observer
Laurie Lewis is a product of California's musically progressive Bay Area, a region known not so much for following rules as for creating new ones. Grounded in the traditional music of Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, the Berkeley native has looked to bluegrass as a foundation upon which to fashion her own artistic vision.
Bluegrass, folk, country -- Lewis blends them all with a "music without borders" openness that has earned her two top female vocalist awards and a Grammy for her contribution to "True Life Blues: The Songs of Bill Monroe."
While Lewis' recordings have won her a legion of faithful fans, her warmth and artistry are best heard on the festival stage or in the concert hall. Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands, "Live," on her own Spruce and Maple label, is a 19-track "concert" that reprises several of her most popular songs, along with several surprises. It showcases her talents as fiddler, songwriter, singer and bandleader.
"Live" leads off with a brisk "road trip" to "Alaska," followed by Jimmy Martin's snarky "Before the Sun Goes Down." "Geraldine and Ruthie Mae," "Tall Pines," and "Who Will Watch the Home Place," the 1994 IBMA Song of the Year, compare favorably to Lewis' studio recordings. "Love Chooses You," a 1989 hit for Kathy Mattea, is one of the highlights of this, and any other, Lewis performance.
Respected for her generosity in sharing the spotlight with her bandmates, Lewis invites mandolinist Tom Rozum to the microphone for a swingy version of Irving Berlin's "Without My Walking Stick." Winston-Salem's Craig Smith takes the five-string banjo lead on "Diamond Joe," while his fellow Tar Heel, guitarist Scott Huffman, sings lead on Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever" and the Carter Family's "Worried Man Blues."
Closing with the swinging, Norteño-influenced "Texas Bluebonnets," "Live" documents Lewis's appeal as a multitalented artist whose music is eclectic, elegant, and wholly her own.
Sing Out! Magazine, Autumn, 2008
A Laurie Lewis live show is a guaranteed good time. This CD capturing 18 selections totaling over 79 minutes, right near the limit, is most generous. Most congenial, too. Laurie's fiddle, Tom Rozum's mandolin, Scott Huffman's guitar, Craig Smith's banjo and Todd Phillips' bass combine to a delicious mix. Five Lewis originals complement the others from various writers and traditional sources. Truly a rich and entertaining program. –MT
Recorded over three nights in the Pacific Northwest, Live is the perfect introduction to the music of Bay Area fiddler-singer-songwriter Laurie Lewis, who's been a leading figure in California bluegrass since the mid-70's. To cover that span, there's a healthy mix of traditional material ("Diamond Joe" and "Worried Man Blues") and coffeehouse folk (Si Kahn's "Just a Lie" and Sarah Elizabeth Campbell's "Geraldine and Ruthie Mae") alongside Lewis originals, like the a cappella "The Wood Thrush's Song," the swinging "Texas Bluebonnets," and the evergreen "Love Chooses You," a 1989 country hit for Kathy Mattea. Always a generous bandleader, Lewis gives the Right Hands plenty of room to shine, sharing leads with guitarist Scott Huffman, bassist Todd Phillips, mandolinist Tom Rozum, and banjoist Craig Smith, who consistently respond with warm, well-placed solos and strong, sympathetic support. Like the group's last album, 2006's The Golden West, this is California bluegrass at its finest, gently nudging the music leftward with thoughtful songwriting, relaxed ensemble playing, and a great respect for tradition, all mellowed with age. (Spruce & Maple Music, laurielewis.com)
Kenny Berkowitz Acoustic Guitar, November 2008
A live recording is challenging as well as rewarding. The loss of control as compared to a studio recording is the challenge but the spontaneity that comes from a live performance is the reward. Laurie Lewis has produced another great bluegrass album featuring Tom Rozum on vocal and mandolin, Todd Phillips on bass, Craig Smith on banjo, Scott Huffman on vocal and guitar and of course, Laurie on vocal and fiddle.
Live has 18 songs and includes a lot of variety. Many of them are standard bluegrass fair but there are others with more of a folk music quality. A few instruments round out the performance. The quality of the album is top notch and once you get into it, you will find the tunes worth repeating.
Laurie's singing is direct with a slight edge. When blended with the band's vocals it is hard to beat. The vocal by Scott Huffman on Live Forever is also a gem. I was most taken with Laurie's singing on Love Chooses You (pulls the heart strings), with Before the Sun Goes Down" (usual lover will return later song without being too serious) as a runner up. All of the music is a winner.
The traditional tunes and songs which the band performs also add a lot of fun to the album. "Diamond Joe" is a classic. The musicianship on the instruments is also great -- no exaggerated "look at me" solos but tasteful and well executed.
With the tight economy, you may be watching your music budget. This is an album that will be worth the investment.
Southeast Missourian, August 2008
I'm not usually a fan of live albums. There are very few in my collection, and of those there are only a handful I would consider calling "excellent." Live concerts can be great—a demonstration of musicianship and improvisation, or they can be very bad—a victim of poor acoustics, poor sound engineering or just plain poor musicianship. The result is almost always very apparent in live recordings, and the bad outweighs the good in almost every case. Live recordings generally just don't translate the feel of the event.
Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands LIVE! is an exception. The recorded tracks are taken from the best of three performances in March 2007 in Oregon and Washington. The result really speaks to Laurie's personal best, and her ability to assemble and meld with a great group of performers. The lineup is Laurie on fiddle, Tom Rozum on mandolin, Scott Huffman on guitar, Craig Smith on banjo, Todd Phillips on string bass, and Tatiana Hargreaves contributing a fiddle part on "O My Malissa/How Old Are You?" Laurie and Tom share the mic on the majority of the tracks.
The first two tracks, "Alaska" and "Before the Sun Goes Down" are good solid lead-in tunes, but the chills really start after the band introductions, with a haunting "Just a Lie." The mandolin and fiddle are terrific. Next, guitarist Scott Huffman sings a cover of Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever." "Val's Cabin" holds personal meaning for me, telling a story about a river once enjoyed in youth that has succumbed to modern times. "Love Chooses You" is a particularly nice version, featuring beautiful mandolin riffs and Laurie's awesome voice. The Right Hands' keep the old Carter Family jam standby "Worried Man Blues" from being tired and rote. The vocals are neat, and the banjo and guitar breaks are clean and clear. A detour from the usual can be found in "The Rope", which is a really great a cappella seafaring tune led by Tom Rozum. "The Wood Thrush's Song" is another a cappella treat, this time led by Laurie Lewis. This song was written by Ms. Lewis, and follows her thread of environmental awareness, without hitting you on the head with environmentalism. "Diamond Joe" is a hard driving, banjo-heavy number, sure to quench the thirst of any bluegrass fan. "Without My Walking Stick" is an Irving Berlin number covered in a very swingy fashion, highlighting some great bass work. The disc concludes with "Texas Bluebonnets", which is another swingy tune, but this one is in more of a Tex-Mex mood. Think mariachi meets banjo. (Is that possible?)
There are a total of 18 tracks on this disc (19 counting the band introductions) making this disc not only great listening, but a great value for your money. For those of you not familiar with Laurie Lewis, she is an icon of folk, bluegrass and country music. She has been an award-winning artist for more than 30 years, and this CD will be a great introduction to her talents. Her multi-genre influences are clear, and this makes for superb performances that will appeal to many. You should pick this one up soon. Laurie Lewis can be found online at http://www.laurielewis.com.
Red Deer Advocate, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands close out what has turned into a busy weekend of shows. The Waskasoo Bluegrass Music Society presents two-time International Bluegrass Music Association female vocalist of the year Laurie Lewis and her four-piece band Sunday evening at Festival Hall. Tickets for what promises to be a memorable night of acoustic, bluegrass sounds are available at the door, and in advance 53rd Street Music, Red Deer Book Exchange, the Key Hole, and Jackson’s Pharmasave in Innisfail.
Alberta folk singer John Spearn headlines a fundraiser for the Red Deer chapter of the Alzheimer Society November 6. Also appearing at this Matchbox Theatre benefit are Justin Stewart and Curtis Phagoo. Contact Erin or Donna for information at 403-346-2540.
When performed at its highest level, bluegrass music is emotional, evocative, and spot-on in its precision. Such is the recent live album from California-based Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands.
While some of the splices are apparent to those preferring unedited concert recordings, the strength and breadth of the music contained within the eighty-minute set more than compensates for minor blemishes.
Lewis is revealed as a sensitive, intuitive fiddler, one who is more interested in supportive interplay with band mates than showboating flashes of speedy sawing. Blend her dexterity within a powerhouse five-piece bluegrass lineup, and one has a winning combination.
This album provides a comprehensive overview of the band’s repertoire. There are a few barn-storming bluegrass numbers, including Tall Pines, Curly-Headed Woman and Diamond Joe, as well as several introspective songs such as The Rope, Val’s Cabin and the ecological lament The Wood Thrush’s Song.
A Lewis standard, and one of the greatest bluegrass songs of the past two decades — Who Will Watch the Home Place? — is also included.
Shaver’s Live Forever as sung by guitarist Scott Huffman is a highlight, while O My Malissa/How Old Are You? is not only one of the most meaningful bluegrass songs written in the past few years, it features as identifiable guitar intro as exists within the genre.
Featuring nimble-fingered instrumentation, passionate lead vocals, and gripping vocal trio and quartet numbers, the audio on this album is best experienced on quality stereo equipment.
I found it a little flat on my portable machine and even in the car, but the sounds truly came to life once I played it on the home system. Unexpectedly, I was transported to the Pacific Northwest halls in which Live was recorded last spring.
With Live, Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands confirm what astute bluegrass listeners have known for years: few bands present as complete a vision of bluegrass as this band of West Coast professionals.
Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands appear at Festival Hall on Sunday evening.
Donald Teplyske is a local freelance writer who contributes a twice-monthly column on roots music. If you know a roots music event of which he should be aware, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org Red Deer Advocate
Golden West ~ CD Reviews
Stephanie Ledgin, Sing Out! Magazine
Fiddler Laurie Lewis is a seasoned musician that has gathered equally adroit picking companions for her Right Hands band on this latest recording. Long-time partner Tom Rozum is alongside on mandolin, as is award-winning bass player Todd Phillips, who has worked with lewis for the last decade. Guitarist Scott Huffman and banjo player Craig Smith come by way of North Carolina, where they used to pick together. A natural spontaneity within this ensemble is evident from the very first cut.
Lewis shows incredible prowess and maturity not only on the fiddle, but in her exceptional writing. The album opens with an original bluegrass number, "Your Eyes," in which Lewis' vocal delivery mixes pizzaz with coy theatrics. It's a killer.
She exposes the very private side as well as astounding emotional depth in her composition "A Hand to Hold." Guest Linda Ronstadt steps in to harmonize with Lewis' expressive voice, as she and Rozum also do on the solemn "Rank Stranger."
Huffman possesses one of those wonderful Southern drawl-inflected voices, the kind that drips with down-home warmth. He contributes an original, "Hard Luck in Heaven," in which he queries the mighty powers-that-be if his luck will be any different up above. Fellow Tar Heel Smith jumps right into the mix, driving the spotlight at all the right moments throughout the CD.
A real gem is "Mourning Cloak," a murder ballad about love, betrayal, and a butterfly, hence its title. Another treasure is the seldom heard "Before the Sun Goes Down," from the Jimmy Martin catalog. As spirited as the opening track is, serene and sad is the final, sensitive rendition fo John Hartford's "Goodbye Waltz."
Surpassing her previous outstanding recordings, Lewis has reached a new pinnacle. The Golden West represents some of the best work ever from Laurie lewis. Highly recommended.
Maverick, January 2007
Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands
The Golden West
"Both understated and striking music, played and sung with devotion and urgency"
Laurie Lewis, a key figure in helping female musicians break into the traditionally male-dominated bluegrass genre, is an exceptional, versatile fiddler and a singer blessed with a smooth, musical voice. Despite her long identification with bluegrass music, Lewis also embraces many other forms of acoustic music, including folk, blues, country, Cajun, Tex-Mex, you name it, in her repertoire. For this latest album with her five-piece band the Right Hands, she keeps t a more basic, traditional bluegrass, mountain style. It is very much a band-album, with long associate Tom Rozum (mandolin, mandola) sharing lead vocals, guitarist Scott Huffman contributing to the vocals and also writing Hard Luck in Heaven. The band is completed by banjoist Craig Smith and string bass player Todd Phillips. Together they provide a driving sound when required- Bill Monroe's title tune- or slower, emotional picking as on John Hartford's Goodbye Waltz.
The charm and beauty of both folk and bluegrass is at the forefront of every song. There's a neat rendition of Billy Joe Shaver's Live Forever- a song that's becoming something of a bluegrass staple- with Scott providing the lead vocal and Laurie and Tom joining in on harmonies. Linda Ronstadt adds harmony vocals to the well-known Rank Stranger and Laurie's self-penned A Hand to Hold. The latter is a lengthy six-minute opus, but the sheer beauty of the vocalising, sensitive accompaniment and evocative lyrics make for a stunning track. Showing the diversity of this talented band, they dig way in time for Jimmie Rodger's 99 Year Blues, and add the more recent Kate Campbell-penned Bury Me in Bluegrass and Jimmie Dale Gilmore's River Under the Road. It all adds up t exceptional rootsy music that should appeal t old timey and bluegrass fans alike.
15 November 2006
LAURIE LEWIS & THE RIGHT HANDS
The Golden West : Hightone Records HCD 8194 Prod: Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands (52:53) - *****
Your Eyes / Burley Coulter s Song For Kate Helen Branch / 99 Year Blues / Before The Sun Goes Down / Live Forever /Rank Stranger /Bury Me In Bluegrass / The Golden West / A Hand To Hold / River Under The Road / Hard Luck In Heaven / The Mourning Clock / Goodbye Waltz
Laurie Lewis, a consummate musician, talented song writer and instantly recognisable vocalist has won numerous awards in the field of bluegrass music. She has been instrumental in bringing the style of music which originated in Kentucky to the West Coast, where she has been based for much of her life, and for the past thirty years or so she has been most insistent that those with whom she tours and records are as professional as she is herself. In short, Ms Lewis is a perfectionist and expects nothing but the best from those she works with. Well, The Right Hands, Tom Rozum, mandolinist, who has been with Laurie for the past twenty years and has recorded three duet albums with her, Todd Phillips, bassist, who joined Laurie in 1996 and produced the Grammy Award winning True Life Blues: a Tribute to Bill Monroe , which included a contribution from her, Craig Smith, an outstanding guitarist who first worked with Laurie in the mid-70 s before relocating to North Carolina, and Scott Huffman, a notable banjoist who has worked with Smith for some twenty five years, collectively live up to Laurie s expectations. This latest album came about following a short Alaskan tour when the five of them secreted themselves for three days in a Washington recording studio. They each brought some of their favourite songs to the table and whenever there was unanimous agreement they would work out an arrangement and set about recording it, so the choice of material was very much a collective agreement.
There is the sort of fluidity in musicianship which comes when a group of highly proficient musicians who understand each other so well get together for a short, concentrated span, so absolutely no criticism in this department. Apart from Laurie, both Tom Rozum and Scott Huffman are extremely good vocalists in their own right and so lead vocals are shared between them. Laurie sounds particularly sassy on the opening track, Your Eyes , one of her original songs; a delightful delivery and rather different in style to what one has generally come to expect of her. She leads off again on Before The Sun Goes Down , a Jimmy Martin composition, and is joined by Linda Ronstadt on Albert Brumley s Rank Stranger and another of Laurie s originals, the beautiful A Hand To Hold which must surely be the highlight of the entire album. Laurie also takes lead vocal on The Mourning Clock and duets with Tom Rozum on the closing track, the plaintive Goodbye Waltz , written by the late John Hartford.
Scott stands centre stage for Burley Coulter s Song For Kate Helen Branch , Billy Joe Shaver s Live Forever and the wry Hard Luck In Heaven , one of his own compositions, while Tom Rozum leads on the old Jimmie Rodgers classic 99 Year Blues , Bury Me In Bluegrass , written by Kate Campbell, and the Ana Egge/Jimmie Dale Gilmore number River Under The Road . >From very early in life Laurie was totally smitten by Bill Monroe and it was largely through listening to his music that she immersed herself in traditional bluegrass, so it is only fitting that the title track, The Golden West , the only instrumental, was written by Monroe.
From start to finish one can get a sense of the pure enjoyment which these five artists themselves derived in recording this album. Great musicianship, strong vocals, excellent two and three part harmonies and a democratically selected programme of songs upon which all five agreed. Maybe not the standard way in which an album is recorded these days, but this time it all works perfectly.
From Country Standard Time ~
Laurie Lewis The Golden West 2006 (HighTone)
Reviewed by Tim FitzPatrick
Laurie Lewis has always been good at adding her own twist to the familiar. This knack is immediately apparent in the opening "Your Eyes" in which we hear bluegrass fiddle and banjo rolls underneath phases such as "Svengali" and "luminous orbs."
Lewis shares lead singing with longtime collaborator Tom Rozum and guitarist Scott Huffman. The three voices combine with particularly good effect on through Kate Campbell's "Bury Me in Bluegrass." Linda Ronstadt lends her voice to the wistful "A Hand to Hold" and brings a credible edge to the tenor part on "Rank Stranger."
Rounding out the "Right Hands" are Todd Phillips and Craig Smith. Phillips' bass playing provides a steady anchor. Smith has a distinctively sparse banjo style, which serves the band well. While much of the instrumentation is understated, the ensemble cooks on the Bill Monroe instrumental "The Golden West" and has fun with the bouncy "Before the Sun Goes Down."
From the raucous "99 Year Blues" to Rozum and Lewis' graceful duet of John Hartford's Goodbye Waltz, the project provides a pleasant mix of originals, classics and contemporary covers.
Tom Geddie / Buddy Magazine (Dallas)
Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands "The Golden West" (HighTone, 2006)
The gently bluegrass version of Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever" sung by Scott Huffman is worth the purchase price of The Golden West by Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands.
Lewis is a two-time female vocalist of the year in the International Bluegrass Music Association and a fiddle player raised in the San Francisco folk scene when the 1960s reluctantly turned into the 1970s. Befitting the bluegrass tradition, she shares vocals on this CD with bandmates Tom Rozum (mandolin and mandola) and Huffman (guitar). Craig Smith (banjo) and Todd Phillips (string bass) round out the band.
Huffman's version of the Shaver song is a simple, masterful interpretation that is both true to and expands upon the original with banjo, fiddle, harmony vocals and his own North Carolina twang.
Mixing in a handful of originals during a three-day recording session in Washington state, the "newgrass" band, on 13 songs, also shares its takes on Jimmy Martin's "Before The Sun Goes Down," Albert Brumley's "Rank Stranger" (made famous by the Stanley Brothers), John Hartford's "Goodbye Waltz", Ana Egge, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Sarah Brown's "River Under The Road" and the title song by Bill Monroe. They also turn Wendell Berry's poem "Burley Coulter's Song for Kate Helen Branch" into a fine remembrance of a country dance.
Joe Sixpack's guide to Hillbilly Music/Slipcue
Wow... what a great record -- one of the best bluegrass albums of '06! If you like plain, simple, and sincerely twangy truegrass, filtered through a West Coast/Northern California sensibility which keeps things real and rootsy, but doesn't simply go through the motions of genuflecting at the temple of rigid, "high lonesome" traditionalism, well, then this is an album you'll want to check out. Lewis and longtime cohort Tom Rozum lead this laid-back, no-nonsense quintet, playing a nice mix of original songs and well-chosen covers. Guitarist Scott Huffman contributes one song (and fine harmony vocals on others) while Lewis adds two more; the remainder of the album embraces music by Albert Brumley, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, John Hartford, Jimmy Martin, Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers and Billy Joe Shaver... I mean, geez... how could you go wrong The answer is, you can't. This is a mighty fine set, from start to finish, filled with one heartfelt, effective performance after another. Highly recommended!
From East Bay Express...
Rural Bluegrass Fiddling
Nobody in bluegrass fiddles or sings with more feeling than Berkeley's own Laurie Lewis. A founder of the all-women old-timey band Good Ol' Persons a good three decades ago, she's now the sole woman in her amazing quintet the Right Hands. They celebrate the release of their first CD, The Golden West (on Oakland's rock-solid HighTone label), this week at the Freight & Salvage. Their repertoire mixes Lewis' rural California take on life and love with other songs by Billy Joe Shaver and John Hartford. On the CD, Lewis' occasional stage partner Linda Ronstadt duets on a couple of songs. Thursday, August 31. 8 p.m., $18.50/$19.50 door. TheFreight.org (Larry Kelp)
Party with Laurie Lewis at Freight and Salvage
~ Jim Harrington
IT'S ALWAYS a party when Berkeley's own Laurie Lewis plays a hometown show at the Freight and Salvage Coffee House. When she hits the stage tonight, however, it will be a party with a purpose.
Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands are celebrating the release of their brand-new CD, "The Golden West," at this show. The East Bay native's album is being put out by, appropriately enough, Oakland's own HighTone label.
Fans will surely get a heaping dose of songs from "The Golden West," but they'll also get many of the classic tunes that have made this talented veteran such a house favorite at the Freight and Salvage over the years.
But it's not just the fine folks at the Freight and Salvage who like Lewis. The vocalist-fiddler has garnered her share of national recognition during her career, including a Grammy and two International Bluegrass Music Association Awards for Female Vocalist of the Year.
Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $18.50. The Freight and Salvage is at 1111 Addison St., Berkeley. Call (510) 548-1761 or visit http://www.thefreight.org.
From the Contra Costa Times
Start the weekend off right by catching Laurie Lewis tonight at the Freight. Lewis, the East Bay's answer to Alison Krauss (she can fiddle and sing like a dream) is celebrating a new CD, "The Golden West," with a few of her favorite bandmates and collaborates. A sure-fire fun time. Details: 8 p.m., 1111 Addison St., Berkeley, $18.50 advance/$19.50 door, 510-548-1761, www.thefreight.org.
By Bob Strauss, Film Critic
LAURIE LEWIS & THE RIGHT HANDS: "The Golden West"
Basically a bluegrass album named after a Bill Monroe instrumental, Lewis' latest brings a looser, more celebratory sensibility to the old mountain sound. Call it California coolgrass, if you must, but don't mistake it for laid-back. Trading vocals with mandolinist (and longtime duet partner) Tom Rozum and guitarist Scott Huffman, fiddler Lewis breathes crisp air into standards like Jimmy Martin's "Before the Sun Goes Down" and Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever." Linda Ronstadt lends harmonies on a couple of tracks, too. In stores Tuesday (Lewis appears tonight at McCabe's in Santa Monica).
From Ron Warnick
Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands, "The Golden West" (HighTone) - The slight raggedness in the singing suggests the songs were recorded in one or two takes, or the members are showing their age. But the performances, such as "99 Year Blues," "Bury Me in Bluegrass," "Rank Strangers" and "Live Forever," sound natural and lived-in. Grade: A-
JOSH LOVE, Correspondent, News and Observer, Raleigh, NC
* BLUEGRASS | Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands, "The Golden West" ****
Into the 1970s, bluegrass music was a man's world, following the pattern established by Bill Monroe in 1945. Women have changed the formula since then, bringing a new perspective and a softer touch to the high lonesome sound.
Laurie Lewis, a Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and fiddler, has made some of the most important contributions of the past 20 years. Growing up in California's Bay Area, she was free from the rules that define bluegrass music in the Southeast, and she incorporates folk, country and blues into songs that are graceful, witty, warm.
With Lewis fronting her superb quartet, the Right Hands, "The Golden West" (Hightone) has it all. Lewis gives a woman's slant to the swagger of Jimmy Martin's "Before the Sun Goes Down," and in her own "A Hand to Hold," she turns to nature to reflect on bittersweet memories of love grown cold.
Lewis is a generous bandleader. Thomasville native Scott Huffman (guitar) sings lead on three songs, including Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever" and his own "Hard Luck in Heaven." Tom Rozum (mandolin) is out front on Jimmie Rodgers' "99 Year Blues" and Kate Campbell's "Bury Me in Bluegrass." And Winston-Salem's Craig Smith applies his banjo wizardry throughout.
The male voices provide robust counterpoint to Lewis' sprightly soprano on songs as diverse as the Stanley Brothers' "Rank Stranger" (with Linda Ronstadt singing harmony), the contemporary old-time ballad "The Mourning Cloak," Lewis' cleverly upbeat "Your Eyes" and John Hartford's "Goodbye Waltz," performed as an album-closing duet with Rozum.
Kerry Dexter is a senior contributing editor at FolkWax
Guest House ~ CD Reviews
Barnes & Noble
Originally published April 8, 2004
by Jedd Beaudoin
You just can't beat Laurie Lewis. What a pure and clear voice. Willie Poor Boy, the first song on this CD comes across with so much power that you will want to replay it even before listening to the rest of the CD.
If you want to sing along with these songs, Laurie has lyrics on her site for this CD and of course you can purchase the CD there too. See the link below for purchase.
The songs here move from high powered bluegrass song of Willie Poor Boy, to the gospel arrangement of Quite Hills that you would expect to hear coming from Ralph Stanley, to a little rumba (Johnny & Jack), beat of Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes.
The harmony singing here is nothing less than perfect which also applies to the arrangements. All and all we have an excellent CD here that I definitely recommend to the traditionalists and comtemporary bluegrass music lovers alike.
Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum Guest House Hightone Records
By Christine LaPado Chico News and Reviews
Bluegrass Unlimited/Julie Koehler
Certainly, the soul of any Lewis/Rozum album is Laurie's exquisite fiddling and Tom's brightly poignant mandolin playing. Like a perfectly executed pas de deux, their instruments dance together, in and out of the spotlight, giving strength and continuity to each melody. And if the instruments are the soul of the music, vocals are its heart. Laurie's lead singing has warmth, power, and maturity; while young voices may learn the words, Lewis conveys each song's meaning. (Listen to the heartbreaking ballad "Scars From An Old Love.") Tom's harmony blends flawlessly and is arranged for their unique style, supporting from below Laurie's higher melody and giving the songs a deeply-rooted, solidly-anchored feeling.
Material on "Guest House" glides easily through several arenas-social commentaries; slow, beautiful ballads; familiar old friends ("Old Dan Tucker," "Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes"); fun, bouncy tunes ("Alaska," "O My Malissa/How Old Are You?"); a haunting a cappella number; and a lengthy instrumental medley that smokes as it closes the album. The selections work well as a single body of work, moving from thought-provoking to toe-tapping, heart-wrenching to smile-inducing.Adding to the richness of "Guest House" are several high-powered West Coast musicians-Todd Sickafoose (bass), Craig Smith and Tom Sauber (banjo), Scott Huffman (guitar), Nina Gerber (lead guitar), and Mike Marshall (mandocello, guitar)-giving Lewis and Rozum lots of arrangement possibilities, resulting in a duo album with the fullness of a band. Works for me. (Hightone Records, 220 4th St. #101, Oakland, CA 94607, www.hightone.com.)JK
Bluegrassworks.com/ Joe Ross
Laurie wrote “O My Malissa” after reading about courtship of Bill Monroe’s parents. It makes a seque into “How Old Are You?,” a fiddle tune learned from a recording of Bill, Charlie and Birch Monroe in 1969. This medley and “My Heart’s Own Love” feature the frailing banjo of Tom Sauber. Craig Smith’s bluegrass banjo embellishes six cuts. The other ccompanists include Todd Sickafoose (bass), Scott Huffman (guitar, 4 cuts), Nina Gerber (lead guitar, 2 cuts), Mike Marshall (mandocello on one cut, guitar on one cut). Laurie plays fiddle and guitar; Tom plays mandolin, mandola, and guitar.From Berkeley, Laurie got hooked on bluegrass in the 1960s and has played with many groups (Phantoms of the Opry, Good Ol’ Persons, Free Mexican Air Force, Vern Williams Band, Arkansas Shieks, Blue Rose, and Grant Street) before starting her own band in 1998. A two-time California State Women’s Fiddle Champion and two-time IBMA “Female Vocalist of the Year” (1992 and 1994), Laurie has also appeared at the Grand Ole Opry. Tom Rozum has worked with Lewis since 1986. He recently released his first solo album, “Jubilee,” and “Guest House” is actually their eighth overall album together. Lewis and Rozum recorded their first duet album in 1995. “The Oak and the Laurel” was nominated for a Grammy in 1996 for Best Traditional Folk Album. “Winter’s Grace” was put out in 1999.
The indefatigable Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum have a reputation for exciting musicianship. Their sound keeps hot fiddle, mandolin and duet singing in the forefront. They’re a little bit classic country, a tad bit folk, a skosh old-timey, and slightly bluegrass. This album is proof that they can expertly do it all. Their versatility gives this album a high degree of intrigue and charm. Yoga Journal/ J. Poet " A champion fiddler and superb vocalist, Lewis is also a gifted songwriter with the ability to look at the world as a deeply questioning seeker without denying any of its problems or inherent humor. On Guest House, she and longtime partner Tom Rozum (vocals, mandolin, mandola, guitar) explore the byways of the human heart and the vagaries of fate with a collection of timeless songs, old and new... The album's title comes from a poem by the Sufi poet Rumi that urges us to treat joy, sorrow, and depression as fleeting guests in the home of the heart, since every experience can open us to 'some new delight.' Lewis and Rozum have obviously taken his words to heart; every song here is full of an uplifting spirit that invites listeners to let their own inner light shine."
All Music Guide/Chris Nickson
There was a time when Laurie Lewis was seen as the queen of West Coast bluegrass, as if it was a different animal from Southern bluegrass. It's not, of course, and these days Lewis is recognized as one of the music's major practitioners. This showcases her vocal talents and puts her playing on the back burner, and she can certainly use her voice, especially on the two Hazel Dickens songs here, with "Scars from an Old Love" being so good you actually hold your breath during the song. That she's also a strong writer is demonstrated by three of her own compositions, with "O My Malissa" being the best, the tale of the courtship between the late great Bill Monroe's parents. It would be unfair to play down Tom Rozum's contributions, as he offers some scintillating mandolin work that's an absolute joy, and provides a perfect vocal foil for Lewis on tracks like "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes" and "Since You Went Away." They both get to shine vocally on"Quiet Hills," an a cappella piece that's made of fragile beauty. Closing with an instrumental medley was a good cleansing idea, and everyone obviously has a glorious time with it, Lewis' fiddle work on the first piece atmospheric and moving. All in all, a joyous, often lovely record.
Nashville Public Radio/Dave Higg
LA Daily News/Bob Strauss
Allentown Call Chronicle/Geoff Gehman
With a career that dates back to the mid-1970s, Laurie Lewis has always been an avid promoter of the music she loves. Here the justly lauded fiddler, singer, and songwriter teams with mandolinist Tom Rozum for their third album together. The 13 songs on Guest House mix Lewis originals with traditional numbers and well-chosen covers by some important writers from the second half of the 20th century (including Hazel Dickens, Jim Ringer, Si Kahn, and Slim Willet). When Lewis and Rozum harmonize it is truly a thing of beauty; the evocative intervals they employ on "Since You Went Away" are simply breathtaking. Additional players add supple oomph and wallop throughout, most notably Todd Sickafoose on bass and Craig Smith on banjo. --David Greenberger
Kevin's Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews/Kevin McCarthy http://www.surfnetusa.com/celtic-folk/index.html mailto:email@example.com
Berkeley Daily Planet/Doug Spencer
WASHINGTON TIMES/ Kris Garnjost
The John Shelton Ivany Top Twenty-One Published in 200 national newspapers
Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum Guest House High Tone Records
by Bob Mitchell
Bill Yates, Route 66
Rob Shotwell, Bluegrass Breakdown
"Laurie & Tom give us another excellent collection of great bluegrass and oldtimey music. This one will stay in may car for a long time, and it is the first playlist on my mp3 player.
Seeing Things ~ CD Reviews
Kind of Blue
Multi-talented songwriter Laurie Lewis makes music with an ear toward tradition. But she's not afraid to break rules.
By David Hill Article Published Oct 11, 2001
For years, bluegrass was easily one of the most male-dominated musical genres around. All the biggest stars were men, and their bands were all made up of "boys." Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys -- you get the idea. Talk about boy bands.
Sure, there were a few token female members of the club, like accordionist Sally Ann Forrester and bassist Bessie Lee Mauldin, both of whom played for Bill Monroe. West Coast hillbilly singer Rose Maddox recorded a fine bluegrass album for Capitol, but that was a one-shot deal. Back in the early '60s, when earnest young college students discovered the joys of bluegrass, about the only women playing the festivals were Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. They, more than just about anyone else, made bluegrass safe for females.
These days, it's hard to imagine bluegrass without women. Alison Krauss is probably the most famous female performer, but others, like Rhonda Vincent and Claire Lynch, are doing highly regarded work. Earlier this year, country singer Patty Loveless showed her affinity for the high-lonesome sound on the wonderful Mountain Soul, and in recent years Dolly Parton has gotten in touch with her hillbilly roots.
Then there's Laurie Lewis, a dulcet-voiced singer from Berkeley, California. On her Web site, she calls herself a "singer, fiddler, guitarist, songwriter [and] river rat," which gives you some idea of her many talents. (She has also been a dancer and a violin maker.) She may not be a household name, but she's well-known in bluegrass circles. Indeed, she won the International Bluegrass Music Association's female vocalist of the year award in 1992 and 1994.
Bluegrass was her first love, but Lewis has also recorded a number of albums, most of them for the Rounder label, that aren't so easily categorized. One of them, 1998's Seeing Things, is best described as "contemporary folk" or "new acoustic." But her most recent disk, Laurie Lewis & Her Bluegrass Pals, is a spirited return to the music that first captivated her as a teenager.
"Of course, I've always loved bluegrass," she says from her home in California. "It's a music that's very near and dear to my heart. But I hadn't played in a bluegrass band, per se, since, maybe, the early '80s. And since then, I had just been doing all these different configurations. Seeing Things definitely had some songs on it that would never be called bluegrass." But, partly because she's always been known as a bluegrass singer, Lewis decided it was time to do an all-bluegrass album again.
Still, she hates being pigeonholed. "I'm hard to categorize, and it drives the record companies mad. But that's just the way I am." Some of her favorite singers are hard to classify. "I mean, look at Ray Charles. If he loves a song, he's just going to do it. And he makes it a Ray Charles song."
Lewis got hooked on roots music back in the '60s, when she had the good fortune to see legendary performers like Doc Watson, the Greenbriar Boys (another "boy" band!), Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis and Jean Ritchie at the Berkeley Folk Festival. About the same time, she went to a Byrds concert; the Dillards, a California bluegrass outfit led by banjo picker Doug Dillard, was the opening act.
"I thought they were the funniest," Lewis says. "They really appealed to a fourteen-year-old. I just loved them, and I wanted to play the banjo." Her father bought her the much-desired instrument, and she began taking lessons from a student at UC Berkeley. When her teacher went away for the summer, he left Lewis a box of bluegrass records, which she played over and over. The seed had been planted.
Laurie Lewis Seeing Things
Laurie Lewis could be a Country Star. She has the chops. She's attractive, photogenic, and would come across well on music video. She's an excellent performer and entertainer. But what sets Laurie apart from the pack is her songwriting and that voice. That voice can soar like an eagle. It can bring a tear to the hardest heart.
But Laurie makes the music she want's to. She's been active in the California Acoustic Music scene for years. A founding member of the Good Ole Person's, an outstanding Bay area Bluegrass Band, she left out on her own when that group disbanded and hasn't looked back since. She has put out several excellent Bluegrass albums. This album is not Bluegrass, It's acoustic music. Damn fine acoustic music.
Some of the highlights are the bluegrassy "Blue Day's, Sleepless Nights", the tender ballad "The Refugee", a song about being grateful for roots and a place to call home. "Kiss Me Before I Die", is a song about how everything else can wait until after that desperate need for a kiss has been fulfilled. Done in a Dawg style, it comes across funky and full of sass. "I'll Take Back My Heart" is a delightful Norteno romp. "Manzanar" is a Tom Russell song about the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during WW2. With Laurie's soaring fiddle and aching vocals, and the accompaniment of Koto drums, the song will break your heart.
This is a pretty good little disc. Laurie's Vocals are top notch. Surrounded by top musicians such as Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, and Tom Rosen, the musical quality is great. The large majority of the songs work for me. There were a couple I didn't care for, but the thing that keeps you enthralled is that wonderful, wonderful, voice.
Cub Koda, All Music Guide
While previous albums have explored Lewis' prodigious fiddle talents and her ability to put a new spin on bluegrass music, Seeing Things zeroes in on her glorious voice and her ability to tell a story with it. Eight of the 11 tunes come from her pen; tunes like "The Refugee," "Kiss Me Before I Die," "Angel On His Shoulder," and "Bane and Balm" all show tremendous growth as a writer, while the opening "Blues Days, Sleepless Nights" bears strong comparison to her best bluegrass work. Tom Russel's "Manzanar" (the story of a World War II Japanese POW), her duet with Cris Williamson on "Let the Bird Go Free" and the traditional "The Blackest Crow" set moods bleak, somber and ethereal. But mostly it comes down to Lewis' voice, an instrument of uncommon beauty, depth and versatility. This is one special album. ~
Walnut Valley Occasional
If you want to know what kind of a bluegrass singer Laurie Lewis is, you only need to listen to one phrase. In the bridge of the song Visualize, from the new CD Seeing Things, she sings the phrase "and she knows," letting loose on the last syllable, sliding up and holding the note just long enough for tension to become passion. Lewis sings the same way she plays fiddle -- emotionally, but tastefully controlled.
If, however, you want to know about Lewis as a songwriter, you'll have to listen a lot more. Lewis -- in the company of such standouts as Iris DeMent, Judith Edelman, Patty Larkin and the Indigo Girls -- can and does write about anything. Moreover, she makes it all compelling.
On Seeing Things, Lewis seems to be both embracing and struggling with maturity. In the one hand, she is sultry and direct on Tattoo, a song that leaves mental images indelible as the name on the narrator's arm. On the other hand, the straight-ahead bluegrass cut Blue Days, Sleepless Nights is about playing it safer than she used to: "I used to dance out on the edge / I was possessed, I could not fall / But nowadays I just inch along that ledge / afraid to dance, I barely crawl."
Maturity and perspective come into play on both the clever Kiss Me Before I Die and the affecting Angel on His Shoulder. The first is a funky, funny Mary Chapin-Carpenter - meets - Bonnie Raitt seduction song which owes a lot to Tom Rozum's mandola playing. The second is a sparse song built on two quiet guitar parts. Powerful in its specificity, it is a testament to faith and a sense of higher purpose.
SEEING THINGS (1998)
The significance of this album's title is not to be overlooked - when it comes to songwriting, Laurie Lewis is gifted with vision, imagination and a sensitivity that lets her fully view and appreciate both the physical world and the human emotional landscape. Seeing Things is perhaps Laurie's most adventurous and groundbreaking project, ranging stylistically from the balladry of "Let the Bird Go Free" and "The Blackest Crow" to the swing and soul of "Blue Days, Sleepless Nights" to a very funky "Kiss Me Before I Die". Another highlight is the song "Manzanar," the story Japanese-American internment during World War II, for which Laurie blends American acoustic folk music with the beautiful sounds of the Japanese kyoto. In addition to regular band mates Todd Phillips (bass) and Tom Rozum (mandolin), Laurie is accompanied on this CD by some of the very finest acoustic musicians available: Rob Ickes (dobro), Darol Anger (violin), Tony Furtado (slide guitar) and Kathy Kallick (harmony vocals), to name a few.
Country Standard Time/Robert Wooldridge
Laurie Lewis tells us in her liner notes that she had suffered a long period of creative drought during recovery from a serious car accident in 1994. Here she not only demonstrates a renewed creativity, but manages to address the accident in a positive light. "Kiss Me Before I Die" takes a whimsical look at the specter of death, while "Angel On His Shoulder" reveals that surviving adversity can make one appreciate "life's sweet blessings." While other tunes don't deal directly with the accident, songs such as "Let the Bird Go Free" and "The Refugee" acknowledge a spirit of renewal. Another highlight is a stirring performance of Tom Russell's "Manzanar," the story of a Japanese-American reflecting on the atrocity of internment camps during World War II. Regular band mates Tom Rozum (mandolin) and Todd Phillips (acoustic bass) are joined by such notables as Darol Anger (violin), Tony Furtado (slide guitar) and Kathy Kallick (harmony vocals). Lewis shows that she has lived through tragedy to emerge as an artist with creativity not only intact but seemingly heightened. - Robert Wooldridge
To be sure, there's still plenty of fiddle, mandolin, and high lonesome harmonies to be found here, and Lewis's respect for traditional music shines through. If Earth & Sky, the compilation that was Laurie Lewis's Rounder debut, served to showcase her bluegrass roots, Seeing Things finds her breaking new musical ground. But these songs range all over the musical map, from the lilting Norteño swing of "I'll Take Back My Heart" to the sly, bass-driven shuffle of "Kiss Me Before I Die. " Tom Russell's haunting "Manzanar" tells the story of Japanese internment during World War II, while Darol Anger grows a "forest of fiddles" (as the liner notes put it) around Lewis's lovely, clear soprano on the traditional "The Blackest Crow. " Lewis has always been a hard artist to pigeonhole, gracefully moving between musical genres as different as bluegrass, jazz, gospel, and traditional folk. With Seeing Things, she establishes herself as a powerful, diverse singer/songwriter who deserves a much wider audience.
Laurie Lewis continues to successfully walk the high wire above esoteric country, combining elements of bluegrass, folk and pure country to form her own seamless mix. She wrote or co-wrote eight of the eleven tracks here,a nd most are gems. For example, "The Refugee" is a lilting, accordion-driven tale of longing; "Kiss Me Before I Die" is freewheeling hillbilly jazz; "I'll Take Back My Heart" is full-blown Tex-Mex; Tony Furtado's slide guitar imbues "Bane and Balm" with a lush Hawaiian flavor. The songs Lewis didn't write are the traditional "The Blackest Crow," Mark Simos' "Let The Bird Go Free," and veteran Texas troubadour Tom Russell's "Manzanar," an epic tale about the Japanese internment during WWII. As usual, Lewis is impossible to categorize.
Earth & Sky ~ CD Reviews
All Music Guide/Steven E. McDonald
Singer, songwriter, fiddler extraordinaire! On this album, her own songs are showcased, and it is an incredible collection. Other Laurie Lewis albums allow you to enjoy her remarkable affinity for Bill Monroe and other bluegrass classics. There is some awesomely serious songwriting talent on display here -- every song is full of heart, intelligence, informed by eyes that seem to see a lot more of both human nature and the natural world than most others manage to notice. Lewis's albums are always notable for their excellent song selection, and this album helps us understand why: what she herself writes is unfailingly beautiful, intelligent, and musically top-notch.
And it would be remiss of me not to comment on her incredible vocals. She effectively uses her voice as a complex, rich instrument, and it sounds better and better with every release. Her mastery and control of her voice just seem to be on an ever-upward curve. At some points in her songs, I listen to what her voice does just within the space of a single word, and I'm amazed.
Whether it's Lewis's vibrant fiddling matched to the great story of "The Bear Song," the plaintive "Love Chooses You" (with incredible resonator guitar backup by Jerry Douglas) or the norteno/swing-inflected "Texas Bluebonnets," this is a collection you shouldn't miss. It will be one of your favorites right out of the box, then will grow on you even more with every hearing.
North County Times/Jim Trageser
September 5, 1997
Laurie Lewis is one of those many singers whose style can't be neatly pegged into a ready-made format - and so she's ignored by the radio moguls who increasingly make our airwaves so damn boring.
Lewis is a fine singer and even better fiddle player. She's so good that she was featured on the all-star women's bluegrass project, "Blue Rose," on Sugar Hill Records (which you really ought to own if you at all like American music).
But her greatest talent is her songwriting. Like Tom Russell or Guy Clark, Lewis writes smart little tales of average folks, the people both political parties claim to represent every election season then promptly forget.
On this compilation drawn from Lewis' three solo releases on the now-defunct Flying Fish label (now owned by Rounder), Lewis is joined by some of the best country and bluegrass players around: Jerry Douglas, Tony Furtado, Mike Marshall, Buddy Emmons and Sam Bush.
Of course, every once in a while one of these no-name talents breaks through into the mainstream. If you've enjoyed Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris or Ricky Skaggs, for instance, then you might want to give Laurie Lewis a listen.
Country Standard Time/Brian Wahlert
Laurie Lewis was the 1992 and 1994 International Bluegrass Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year, but she transcends the boundaries of that genre on this retrospective as she moves from bluegrass to traditional country and folk, even to new age and jazz.
Regardless of the musical category, though, the central theme of this album is Lewis's talent as a songwriter. She's cautious about falling in love in the banjo-driven bluegrass song "Don't Get Too Close," but she writes poignantly about crossing that line in the fiddle-and-steel country song "The Point of Return." "Green Fields" and "The Hills of My Home" display Lewis's love for the outdoors. Even more interesting are "The Bear Song," a story about a lost hunter who is saved by a group of fiddle-playing bears, and "The Maple's Lament," a spare Irish-sounding first-person tale of the life and death of a tree. And the ethereal natural beauty of "Magic Light" is unlike anything else on any country album. This disc is a fascinating look at a decade in the career of one amazingly gifted songwriter.
Winter's Grace ~ CD Reviews
We have made it through December. The tree has been recycled, the ornaments stashed away in the attic, and chestnuts have been reduced to ashes over the open fire. In many ways it is great to get beyond the hustle of the holiday experience, yet there is something magical about the season and some of the music that is only heard around Christmas time. And if you just want to hold on to that magic for a little longer on these cold frosty mornings one sure way to do so is to listen to Winter's Grace, the wonderful winter solstice recording by Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum.
Normally Laurie and Tom play bluegrass with their Bluegrass Pals, but on this recording they've gathered some interesting non-bluegrass material and got lots of friends to play along. The song selection is exquisite, and fortunately there are no frosty snowmen, no white-bearded geezers in red outfits, and no grandmas getting run over by wayward reindeer.
The first song is The Messenger, a beautiful tale of winter written by songwriter Mark Simos and sung by Laurie, that features an old-time fiddle sound accompanied by mandola, cello, and bass. Snowy Road is a pretty instrumental written by erstwhile New Englander and resident mandolinist Tom Rozum, and Laurie and Kaila Flexer play twin fiddles. Next comes Tom's take on the Merle Haggard classic If We Make It Through December, a song that Tom has been singing for years during the holiday season.
Earth Moves In A Mysterious Way features just a fiddle, Nina Gerber's guitar, Laurie's voice, and lovely four-part harmony on the chorus. The Wassail Song is a traditional tune from the British Isles that Tom sings, followed by The Gift, which is a musical version of the Mexican folk tale The First Nightingale, with a delightful harp plucked by Barbara Higbie. Christmas Time's A-Comin' was written by Bill Monroe's fiddler Tex Logan, and it is the only song on the CD played by Laurie and Her Bluegrass Pals.
Tom sweetly sings Hot Buttered Rum, the tune by Tommy Thompson of The Red Clay Ramblers, and it is followed by Heiligste Nacht, a German traditional song that is an instrumental played on two mandolins. Wintergrace is a song written by Jean Ritchie, and it has a haunting feel with just two voices, fiddle, and mandola. It is also where the CD title comes from. Cold Frosty Morning is a traditional instrumental song that tastefully closes out the recording.
But make sure you listen all the way to the very end for a surprise banjo piece. With the holidays seeming like centuries ago, the rainy season upon us, and the local football teams watching the playoffs on TV, there is not much joy to this world in January. But if you want to experience tidings of comfort and joy for a little while longer, then sample a little Winter's Grace. It will help you gracefully make it through January, February, and the rest of winter.
Larry Carlin, California Bluegrass Association newsletter
Featuring Laurie's wonderfully strong and expressive voice and an appropriately simple, tasteful backing. The songs are well chosen, with the initial track--The Messenger writen by Mark Simos- a lovely, haunting peice that alone is worth the price of the album. Other especially effective cuts are EARTH MOVES IN A MYSTERIOUS WAY, CHRISTMAS TIME'S A COMING, IF WE MAKE IT THROUGH DECEMBER, and instrumental treatments of THE SNOWEY ROAD and COLD FROSTY MORNING.The accompaniment makes good use of fiddle, cello, mandolin, guitar & Bass. Very attractively packaged, this one is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (Note after playing the album's 11 tracks hang on for an extra "hidden" SLEIGH RIDE, played as banjo solo).
-County Sales newsletter
True Stories ~ CD Reviews
An undiscovered talent. The track "Who Will Watch The Home Place ?" was stunning and I quickly found the album it was on - True Stories - and purchased it. I first came upon the name Laurie Lewis from a Bluegrass sampler. I can only say the rest of the album is as good, if not better, than that sample track. Laurie's voice has the adaptability to cover several styles, including cajun, showcased on this album. Maybe she is already well known in the U. S. A. but here in Britain she remains an undiscovered talent. I have been collecting records for 40 years and this one is certainly high on my list of all time favourites. Check out the samples, you won't be disappointed.
Walnut Valley Occasional
(Rounder Records, 13 selections; 50:08)
Voted top female vocalist in 1992 (by the International Bluegrass Music Association), Laurie Lewis' story is that she skillfully delivers and writes many forms of music. From traditional to folk, country, Cajun, blues, jazz and bluegrass, her writing, playing, and singing are right on the mark with heart. Each song included on True Stories has the ring of truth, not one feels like "filler." Produced by Mike Marshall and Laurie Lewis, with support from her band Grant Street and a stellar line-up of guests... this album is another giant step in her already remarkable journey. Fine work.
Laurie Lewis has enjoyed most of her support from traditional bluegrass and folk audiences, and yet, she's hardly a slave to tradition. A varied release, True Stories ranges from the traditional Irish song "Singing Bird" to the country gems "Who Will Watch the Home Place," "Still a Fool" and "Val's Cabin" to folk-pop numbers like "Knocking On Your Door Again" and "Swept Away." The Bay Area native is as excellent a songwriter as she is a vocalist, and it isn't hard to imagine "Val's Cabin" or "You'll Be Leaving Me" being big country hits with slicker production and some of Nashville's promotional muscle. Lewis' audience is a small one, but her music is definitely well worth getting to know. ~ Alex Henderson, All Music Guide
Music from Rancho deVille ~ CD Reviews
Music from Rancho deVille... (Acoustic Disc)
DECEMBER 9, 2001
HEADLINE: A departed friend and a good cause
All the proceeds from this upcoming Acoustic Disc release (Feb. 27) will go to The Bluegrass Trust, a nonprofit fund for musicians in need. It is operated under the aegis of the International Bluegrass Music Association.
Let's call this music modern American traditional. The powerhouse lineup blurs any attempt at definition, but heart and soul cross any genre, be it newgrass, Cajun, bluegrass or old-time country.
"Rancho deVille" is all of these and more. It is Sawtelle's long talked about solo project that he labored to finish before his death from leukemia. Sawtelle's voice and graceful, understated guitar work appear on nearly every track. His vocals on "Aragon Mill" are touching. Blake sings three Carter Family gems that are as "simple" as they are powerful. Doucet brings his fiddle to a bluesy "Jolie Faye." Jiminez flavors a Norteno version of Woody Guthrie's "Ranger Command."
This is a fine tribute to a departed friend and his musical vision. It also helps a worthy cause. For information, call (800) 221-DISC, or see Acoustic Disc on the Web.
Vintage Guitar Magazine:
Charles Sawtelle was the kind of guy who did so many things well that his business card, which read "Expert", wasn't hyperbole. This CD reveals the breadth of his talents. Cajun tunes like "The Newz Reel" with Micheal Doucet of Beausoleais, old-time country "The Storms Are on The Ocean" by A.P. Carter with Norman Blake on vocals, a Norteno version of Woody Guthrie's "The Ranger's Command" where he's joined by Flaco Jimenez, and Lefty Frizell's "Mom and Dad's Waltz" with an unlikely, but perfect vocal, by Vassar Clements are just a few of the musical treats on Music From Rancho DeVille. Charles' solos often forayed into uncharted musical territory, and this CD has a couple that rival his best. "Let's Go Home" gives you a taste of his unique instrumental voice.
The biggest musical surprises here are Charles' own original compositions. Four instrumentals with the likes of David Grisman and Sam Bush on mandolins, Vassar Clements playing fiddle, Jerry Douglas on resophonic guitar, Todd Phillips on string bass, and of course Charles on his herringbone Martin D-28 are simply stunning in their rare beauty. What makes them so remarkable is that they are unpredictable yet classic at the same time.
Charles was a serious audiophile, and his studio was stocked with great old microphones to couple with his superlative Grace eight-channel microphone preamp. If you want to hear what a vintage pre-war Martin herringbone or a Lloyd Loar F-5 mandolin really sounds like in the hands of a master, you have to have this CD. Acoustic disc include their usual special touches that makes their packaging special. Many of Charles' close associates as well as musicians on the album gives us insight into why Charles was special.
While it's only mid-February, I have no doubt that this is one of the best releases of 2001. As Charles would say "You need this CD."
Shaping a legend
The album is named after Rancho deVille, the rough-hewn studio Sawtelle crafted out of an old stone building next to his home on a windswept vista near the foothills north of Boulder. "He named it Rancho deVille because he lived in a ranch house and he drove a '58 Cadillac Coupe deVille," Nick Forster says. Now producer of the Boulder-based E-Town radio program, Forster met Sawtelle in 1975 when both worked at the Denver Folklore Center.
That folk-music institution had also brought Sawtelle and Lewis together. Lewis was in Denver visiting her sister when they went to the center. Sawtelle, who was the old-guitar expert at the center, was performing there with the local bluegrass band the Rambling Drifters (or the Drifting Ramblers, depending on the day). Seeing her violin case -- she was then just an amateur musician -- he invited her onstage to play. Producing Music From Rancho deVille proved to be a daunting task for Lewis. "There were so many logistical problems," she says. "There was never any money, no advance from any record company. And whenever I visited (Boulder), Charles was under the weather (from the illness and the treatments)." Sawtelle received a bone-marrow transplant in 1997, and afterward he continued to produce CDs at his studio and play with his Fort Collins-based bluegrass band The Whippets.
When friends and heroes would come to town, Sawtelle would invite them over to play music. As a result, the new CD boasts an all-star cast of some of the best bluegrass, folk and roots music stars performing today. "He ended up with all those people because they knew him and loved him," Lewis says. Among those who dropped in were Sam Bush, Vassar Clements, Norman Blake and Flaco Jimenez.
Lewis began the task of producing the CD with only a tentative song list she'd discussed with Sawtelle and a wealth of songs in varying degrees of completion. She commuted to Rancho deVille to work her way through a plethora of tapes and fill in the spaces.
"Gonna Paint This Town was one song that I definitely wanted on the album," she says. "All that had been recorded were the rhythm tracks. Charles never felt well enough to record the lead vocals. Afterward, I asked Peter Rowan to sing and Richard Greene to add fiddle."
The final cut on the album is the hymn-like Angel Band. "Charles loved the song. He told me, when he was in the hospital for his bone-marrow transplant, the angel of death visited him," Lewis says. "He said he told the angel he wasn't ready to go yet."
A year after Sawtelle's death, Lewis assembled a dozen or so bluegrass performers, including Forster, Rowan and Pete Wernick, in a Kentucky hotel room to record a chorus for the poignant song. As the CD ends, the sound of bagpipes can be heard in the distance.
Forster says he knows Sawtelle would have been pleased. "Because of the CD, Charles has a much fuller legacy as an artist, a more accurate reflection of him as a creative being. There's not just bluegrass but ballads, hymns, romantic instrumentals and storytelling," he says. Sawtelle's former Hot Rize band mates appear only briefly on the album. "It's a funny thing, but Charles really did feel that everyone else (in Hot Rize) had gone on to do solo things. He wanted to do something that wasn't Hot Rize," Lewis says.
Review: A roots-music celebration
Stitching the styles together are the impeccable flat-picked licks Sawtelle gleaned from his vintage Martin guitars and his bluegrass-perfect slightly nasal voice.
The liner notes include photos, tributes and recollections from Tim O'Brien, Grisman, Lewis, Nick Forster, Mollie O'Brien, Doucet and the evocative biography Pete Wernick wrote for Sawtelle's memorial service in Boulder. If you were one of his many Colorado friends and fans, Music From Rancho deVille will remind you why you loved him in the first place. If you have never heard of him, this all-star CD of genuine roots music is a tuneful way to immerse yourself in Sawtelle's milieu. March 3, 2001
Earth & Sky
Cliffs of Vermilion