Bittersweet SMM 2008
Spruce and Maple Music
For 40 years, Alice Gerrard has been an inspirational figure in the world of American roots music. A pioneering voice of women in bluegrass, Gerrard’s seminal early work with Appalachian singer Hazel Dickens on Rounder Records and Smithsonian Folkways directly encouraged multiple generations of artists, from bluegrass stars like Tim O’Brien and Hot Rize, to country stalwarts like The Judds and Emmylou Harris, even Bob Dylan! Throughout her long and legendary career, Gerrard has performed and recorded with some of the most cherished names in bluegrass and old-time music. It’s impossible to imagine bluegrass today without the input of so many powerful female performers and songwriters, but none of this would have been possible if Alice Gerrard hadn’t paved the way first. A long-time resident of North Carolina, Alice Gerrard’s lifelong devotion to the music of the American South helped spark multiple folk music revivals, and recordings of her music have been lynchpins for younger musicians coming to the music.
This recording marks the first time in Alice's long and varied career that she has taken center stage. All thirteen songs were written by Alice, and they reflect the hard-won wisdom of her rich life, combined with an incisive wit and the language of a true poet. Listen. You won't be disappointed.
For more information regarding Alice's music, please visit her website at www.alicegerrard.com.
Bluegrass Today ~ Louisa Branscomb
Do the math: a legendary singer-songwriter singing her own, plus a producer who understands the impressive scope of the material and how to render each and every song a gem (because her own music has the same remarkable breadth), musicians who are all about the song, and an engineer who knows how to use the knobs so that you never know knobs were used. Quite obviously, then, the result is that Alice Gerrard’s new CD, Bittersweet, is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Guided by producer Laurie Lewis, with support from friend Laurelyn Dossett, this project speaks of musical competence and integrity from beginning to end — beautiful, artfully executed songs that reflect Gerrard’s substantial, if not iconic, musical path, and all the skill that we expect from a founding figure in the modern folk/roots genre. Known for her years with Hazel Dickens in the duo Hazel and Alice, here Alice steps forward to remind us that she is present and accounted for, and still writing and singing great songs. Having a great gig or a great song in the past is a blessing and a curse. We wonder if we will be typed as a “one trick pony” and have to work a little harder to break the mold of others’ expectations. Between the lines, the message here is as gently powerful as the songs themselves: “I’m Alice Gerrard.”
It’s nice when it’s hard to pick a favorite because all tracks are consistently pleasing and excellently executed – which is no small feat, since the styles and rhythms span the gamut of acoustic stylistic approaches. There’s the haunting acapella ballad (Lonely Night), lovely waltzes (Sweet South Anna River), a song of human struggle reminiscent of older folk music (Borderland), several “true country” numbers, an old time flavored song, and the lovely up tempo contemporary acoustic song (Bittersweet). No need for “typing” here. There are just great songs that can be produced in a variety of genres from bluegrass to country to Americana. Good songs plant themselves and wait to see how we will dress them. In this case, the musical cast succeeds at capturing the essence of each of these very diverse songs. This is no surprise, since Laurie Lewis is at the helm, herself a veritable virtuoso of variety in acoustic music styles. The supporting cast includes familiar master musicians Bryan Sutton, Todd Phillips, Stuart Duncan, Tom Rozum, and Rob Ickes, with Ben Surratt at the board, and Laurie herself contributing many of the harmony vocals.
While nothing comes off as a “killer song” that knocks you over, nothing is trying to, nothing needs to, and more importantly, it would be disruptive if one did. It’s a 13-song cascade of heart-felt, consistently in-the-pocket compositions and performances. These are delightfully different tunes, carried along by Alice’s smooth, earthy, authentic vocals– perfect, of course, for songs that tell stories of rivers, mountains, lost love, and stories fading in time. My favorite is the title cut – with its lilting rhythm, plucked fiddle, and easy-on-the ears melody; a masterpiece of writing, playing, and production in itself.
Bittersweet is a listen that you will never tire of. It promises unexpected discoveries of charming musical moments each time you listen. It’s ok that new cars hold only one CD when you have one like this.
Songwriters have the daunting job of listening deeply to the soul of the culture of their times, and rendering this soul – no matter how torn or searching or ragged its nature – into songs. Alice is one of the few still among us who has breathed and transcribed the Appalachian and American soul from the heyday of protest folk music (’60s) across the decades. This CD shows her evolution over the years, right up to more contemporary pieces. We owe her a debt of gratitude for her tireless deep listening, and giving back in words and melody. Many of us in bluegrass and roots music have ridden on your shoulders, Alice, whether we knew it or not. And your new music seems to say: I’m still here, and you were never heavy.
Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine ~ MHH
Starting off a CD with an a cappella number is a gutsy move. But Alice Gerrard and producer Laurie Lewis are gutsy musicians. Bittersweet, Alice’s first solo CD in ten years, finds the two friends combining their considerable talents to showcase thirteen strong originals by Alice. Laurie and her cohorts came up with sparse, understated arrangements, then Alice stepped up, bared her soul, and sang her heart out with quiet intensity. As she said, “I finally decided…it was time for me to do a complete album in my own voice—my songs.”
As the founder of the Old-Time Herald, Alice might be expected to deliver a project with an old-time feel. Instead, supported by Bryan Sutton, Todd Phillips, Stuart Duncan, Tom Rozum, Rob Ickes and the gentle harmonies of Laurie and Tom, she explores multiple musical avenues such as the funky blues of “Somebody Have Mercy,” the rock-and-roll rhythm of “Unexpected Love,” the pulsing slow-dance intensity of “Maybe This Time,” and the jazzy “Payday At The Mill.” On the latter, Alice gives a nod to her politics as she sings about a weekday working woman, a weekend queen/A time clock lady with a lazy dream who is just right for Saturday night because it’s payday at the mill. Only the stark modal tones and clawhammer banjo of “Borderland” hark back to some of Alice’s seminal work.
I have long been a big fan of Alice’s songwriting from her early “Mary Johnson” and “Beaufort County Jail” to “Agate Hill” from her 1994 album Pieces Of My Heart. But the songs on Bittersweet have a particular richness that perhaps comes from a long life lived well. For Alice, it’s not all roses, but it’s not all snow, either. If the words of the title number speak of trying to hold on like a tumble-down house, the last song jauntily proclaims: sitting in the sun feeling sexy…sun keep a-shining on me. And I hope it does Alice, for years to come. Thanks for sharing your heart on this outstanding album. (Spruce & Maple Music, P.O. Box 9417, Berkeley, CA 94709, www.spruceandmaplemusic.com.)
CD Hotlist ~ Rick Anderson
For her first solo album in ten years, folk legend Alice Gerrard has delivers a first: a program made up entirely of original compositions. And they’re gems, most of them sad and quiet and gently, richly gorgeous. Their beauty is enhanced by the slightly fragile nature of Gerrard’s gracefully aging voice, which is highlighted beautifully by the production work of Laurie Lewis and by the skillfully self-effacing assistance of A-list pickers like Bryan Sutton, Todd Phillips, Stuart Duncan and Rob Ickes. Brilliant and beautiful.
Penquin Eggs ~ Mike Sadava
Alice Gerrard has been performing longer than most readers of this magazine have been alive. She’s a veritable pioneer in the folk world, discovering Appalachian music at a young age, and collaborating with Hazel Dickens in the 1960s and 1970s. She was also well-connected with folk music royalty through marriage with Mike Seeger. She has been honoured in several states and by the International Bluegrasss Music Association for her contributions, which include overseeing publication of the Old-Time Herald.
Now in her late 70s, Gerrard hasn’t slowed down a bit. This disc finds her in fine voice, with a collection of fine songs influenced by folk, bluegrass and old-time genres, yet not firmly in any box. Gerrard is a clever songwriter, casting out nuggets about falling in love “just when my boat of life was on an even keel,” adding an impeccable sense of melody.
Kudos have to go to Laurie Lewis for the beautiful production, which includes fine harmonies and some of the best pickers in the bluegrass world, including Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton and Rob Ickes. While Gerrard might plead to “play me a song I can cry to,” this disc will give you every reason to smile.
What a great record "Bittersweet" is. The very first note took the top of my head off, and the record never lets up. The material has a kind of jazzy dimension in parts, and Alice somehow manages to bring all her great techniques of old-time and country singing to the expressive needs of these other kinds of songs, and it works so well. I've never heard anything exactly like it, and it knocked me out. I hope everybody gets to hear it.
The Lonesome Road Review ~Donald Teplyske
The current matriarch of the bluegrass-infused, old-time, and folk-rich branch of the roots music family, Alice Gerrard has been prominent since the 1960s when her early and continually influential recordings with Hazel Dickens significantly shifted the bluegrass world.
Prior to that, and well-documented elsewhere, Hazel and Alice had met and began singing at Washington, DC/Baltimore house parties, moving onto coffeehouse performances within a burgeoning bluegrass environment. Their collaborative recording output—four albums as a duo as well as a fifth as the Strange Creek Singers with Mike Seeger and Tracy Schwarz—was limited, but highly significant and exceedingly impressive.
While Alice Gerrard has an extensive resume as a recording artist within several different configurations, as a guardian of old-time music, as founder and past editor-in-chief of The Old-Time Herald, and as a touring musician, she has recorded as a ‘solo’ artist only intermittently, on approximately a ten-year cycle.
1994′s beautiful Pieces of My Heart and 2004′s equally resonant Calling Me Home: Songs of Love and Loss appeared on the Copper Creek label. As on those recordings, Gerrard’s voice on the new Bittersweet, released on producer Laurie Lewis’ Spruce and Maple imprint, is pure and powerful: Gerrard’s voice is multi-dimensional, and as Lee Smith wrote two decades ago, she can sing anything: “holler, shout, belt it out, swing a little, croon a little, and then flat-out break your heart.”
Significantly, Bittersweet is comprised entirely of original material; an exceptionally talented interpreter of others’ music, Gerrard has ably demonstrated that she takes things to another level when singing one of her rare compositions. Her catalog is laden with jewels, be they “Agate Hill” or “Calling Me Home” from the previous solo recordings, or “Custom Made Woman Blues” from the Hazel & Alice album; Gerrard cuts to the emotional core.
The thirteen songs included herein are each of great quality, and their execution is equally remarkable. “The Stranger” and the title cut show Gerrard examining the echoes of memory, the passage of time and the passing of history, a theme that can also be found within “Tell Me Their Story.” The unaccompanied opening song, “Lonely Night” establishes the otherworldly qualities much of the album reveals.
The banjo-based “Borderland” possesses a haunting sound and lyrics that could be a few hundred years old; ‘Polly’ even makes an appearance. “Payday at the Mill” is the only slightly more lighthearted companion to Dickens’ “Working Girl Blues” and her own “Custom Made Woman Blues.” Well known for being a bit maudlin, Gerrard shows her other side on the positively buoyant rebound song “Sun Keep Shining On Me.”
Surrounded by some of the finest acoustic musicians working today—Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Todd Phillips, Rob Ickes, and Tom Rozum—Gerrard’s voice, both literally and figuratively, is given the opportunity to be clearly expressed. One hears the wondrous ache within “Tell Me Their Story,” feels the mystical joy of the blues “Somebody Have Mercy” offers, and the faint hopefulness of “Maybe This Time” and “Unexpected Love.”
Bittersweet is a timeless recording, one that dynamically reinforces Alice Gerrard’s position within the Americana/roots music communities, not only as a ‘pioneering woman of bluegrass’ but as a formidable force as a contemporary songwriter, musician, and singer. Gerrard turned 79 last month; with Bittersweet she acutely delivers the message that she continues to have a great deal to offer, providing songs you can cry to as well as offering hope when it can be most appreciated.
Utne Reader 7/13
“Remember me, I was a queen, wild flowers in my hair,” sings Alice Gerrard on “Sweet South Anna River.” Suitable lyrics for Gerrard, who has been playing roots music for over 40 years. The likes of Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, The Judds, and Tim O'Brien have claimed her as an influence. Bittersweet, her first album in over 10 years, is made of melancholy-tinged folk, Gerrard’s voice touched with age, but still lovely. There’s plenty of fiddle, as well as bouts of blues guitar, banjo, and music hall vocal harmonies. The album is available July 16th on Gerrard’s website.
“I’ve traveled enough back roads that I see a lot of abandoned houses and it makes me want to know who was there,” says the veteran singer, songwriter and folklorist, Alice Gerrard.
Sure, you could chalk a statement like that up to an active imagination or a nostalgic disposition. But the fact of the matter is that Gerrard has spent the past half-century championing, interpreting and thoughtfully expressing herself through bluegrass, old-time and folk music and somehow always made it feel timely.
A case in point: Back when she and Hazel Dickens performed as a duo and became the widely emulated heroines of the folk revival, Gerrard wrote a ballad called “Mary Johnson.” After a long work day, the song’s female protagonist perches by herself at the bar and unapologetically shuts down a man’s unwanted advances. Although that recording was released by Rounder Records in 1975, about a decade into the duo’s career, its storyline still packs a punch today.
Bittersweet is only Gerrard’s third solo album, and it shouldn’t come as any surprise that she turned to a decidedly of-the-moment resource in order to be able to record it: an online, fan-funded campaign.
CMT Edge: People usually offer rewards like CDs and T-shirts in Kickstarter campaigns. You offered rewards with a personal touch: recipes you’d collected from other musicians and photos you’d taken at so many music festivals over the years.
Gerrard: At first, that didn’t occur to me. I was thinking in terms of, “OK, CDs, a download, the autographed CD.” And I didn’t even think of the T-shirts until we were wracking our brains to think of some other things that would be personal to me. … I had some old Hazel & Alice T-shirts from, like, 1992 or something. [Hazel] ordered way too many. I found ‘em, so I said, “Oh, this would be a good thing. Let’s put these up.” Plus the recipes.
I like it to somehow be connected to music. Down through the years, I’ve kept a few of the recipes that musicians have given me, you know, people that I’ve visited. … I know I had more than I was able to find. I found seven or eight. So I said, “Well, that’ll be a fun thing to do, too.”
You discovered bluegrass, old-time and folk music in college. That’s a prevalent model now. Far fewer musicians of younger generations have rural upbringings or musical traditions handed down within their families.
Gerrard:Yeah, I feel really, really fortunate that I was able to get to know so many of the people that I consider to be the touchstone people for the music. Every generation has their touchstones, but I was so lucky to be up close and personal with people likeBill Monroe and Hazel. … And go to visit people in their home communities. I was lucky to be able to do that.
I wonder how kids now, what they do. Who do they go to? The industry has become so huge, and you can’t just call up somebody and say, “Hey, I’d love to come and visit you.”
It’s a lot more professionalized, which means there’s usually more distance between performer and audience.
Gerrard: I remember going to these country music parks when I lived in Washington [D.C.]. Hazel and I and all the rest of us who were just crazy for the music would pack up the car on Sunday and drive up to Sunset Park. … The Stanley Brothers would come through and play all afternoon. You’d take a big picnic lunch, and during breaks, they’d come and have lunch with you — potato salad, fried chicken and deviled eggs. That just doesn’t happen much anymore, I don’t think.
Not only did you get to know and make music with lots of foundational musicians, you also interviewed, photographed and recorded them. What drew you into that work, including founding The Old-Time Herald?
Gerrard: I feel like there’s a part of me that is a documentarian. I feel like, in some ways, this is still kind of a marginal music compared to the rest of the popular music that’s out there. So there’s a bit of the underdog thing going on. I’ve always felt like it was really important for people to understand how great this music is, for people to know about the musicians who made this music their lives.
So it’s always been really important to me to include that aspect, to take pictures and to tape people as much as possible. … As a musician, I feel like when you know the context of the music, it has more meaning to you and you understand it better. You do a better job, and you can sing it with more feeling and soulfulness. It becomes more a part of you.
People have all sorts of different takes on what you and Hazel accomplished during the decade or so you recorded together, including making female voices heard in a sea of male bluegrass musicians, choosing your own musical direction, writing your own songs and introducing feminist consciousness in a real-world way. What do youthink is the most significant thing that you accomplished during that time?
Gerrard: I think that all of those things kind of come into play to some extent.
There were these hippies and country people and labor organizers and different people [that were] part of that ‘60s folk movement. They were all getting together, and it was a very interesting meeting ground in that Baltimore/Washington area for all these young high school/college kids who were getting interested in bluegrass and old-time music. Then there were all these people from the country who’d moved up around there and were playing in these bars and were playing mostly bluegrass music. It was its own little melting pot of people getting to hang out with one another.
I think as far as Hazel and I were concerned, it was two people who were willing, to some extent, to suspend preconceived notions about the other person and open up their minds to each other. She was very much the mentor. I was very much the mentee. She was older and she was smart. … So I spent a lot of time listening to her before it ever sort of happened. We hung out a lot together. So it took open-mindedness from both of us.
Then I think the other very significant factor was this tour that was put together by a friend of ours named Anne Romaine.
Right. The tour of Southern colleges.
Gerrard: Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project. She and Bernice Reagon were very active in the civil rights movement in the South. … They put together a tour of traditional musicians, an integrated tour, that would go around the South, which at that time was kind of a novel idea.
It was a two-fold idea: to help people appreciate their own musical culture more and also to make a political statement. It would definitely be integrated, and when you had people like Bessie Jones, who was the granddaughter of a slave from St. Simon’s Island, telling her story and somebody like Roscoe Holcomb, who had been through some of the worst times of coal mining in eastern Kentucky, up there singing his songs and telling his stories, that in itself was a political statement.
I feel like touring with these people for a number of years raised my consciousness for sure. [Hazel] didn’t need hers raised, but she needed to have it sort of brought out, which this tour really did. And that’s when she started becoming more political and we wrote more songs.
How did you relate to the women’s movement?
Gerrard: In the very beginning, I don’t think either [Hazel or I] had a clue. There were a couple of times that Hazel and I played somewhere back east, and we were completely taken aback by the fact that the place filled up with mostly women. I think we were aware that something was going on as far as a larger movement was concerned.
We had all had experiences. I mean, Hazel in particular was the girl singer/bass player: “We’ll let the girl sing a song now.” She had lots of really negative experiences. Me much less so. … She grew up in sort of an oppressive society where women stayed at home and cooked and just did what their guys told them. That was her upbringing, but there was also a real strength there with a lot of the women in her culture. She inherited that. And there was a lot of strength in mine, too. My mother was an extremely strong person.
We both grew up with this, but I think it wasn’t until a little bit later that we felt like we had permission to write about it and sing about it, and that this was a good thing.
If I didn’t already know that Bittersweet is your first album comprised entirely of originals, I might’ve looked at the track list and thought that “Play Me a Song I Can Cry To” was the Jerry Lee Lewis song by that name.
Gerrard: Oh, I didn’t know he had one by that name.
Yours was inspired by time you spent at [old-time fiddler] Tommy Jarrell’s house.
Gerrard: Yes. It actually came directly from a neighbor of Tommy’s. We’d go and stay there for a few days at a time, always sitting around the living room playing music and talking. A neighbor friend of his named Lola came by. She had just been to church or something. She kind of plopped herself down in a chair, and she said, “Oh, I need a good cry. Play me something I can cry to.” That’s just like manna from heaven when you get a line like that.
American Songwriter ~ Andrew Leahey
She may be one of the pioneering females in bluegrass music, but Alice Gerrard doesn’t enjoy performing alone.
“I have never considered myself primarily a singer/songwriter,” she says. “Mostly, I’ve worked and performed with other musicians: Alice & Hazel, The Harmony Sisters, Tom, Brad & Alice….”
She’s talking about Hazel Dickens, the influential folksinger who formed a harmony duo with Gerrard in the mid-‘60s. Gerrard went on to influence some of the biggest roots musicians of the 20th century, including Emmlyou Harris and Bob Dylan. She even joined the royal family of American folk music by marrying Mike Seeger. In her solo career, though, she’s always been more of an underground figure, sometimes waiting as long as ten years between her solo albums. Her latest, Bittersweet, doubles as her first record to feature all original material.
“Eight or ten years ago,” she remembers, “Laurie Lewis approached me at MerleFest about producing a solo recording of me and my songs. We talked for a bit and [agreed to] talk more when both of us had more time. Time passed. I’m not one to rush things; it’s usually been about 10 years in between solo albums. I was busy. Laurie was busy. Then, a couple of years ago, two other people approached me about producing a solo album, and I figured maybe this was my time, and I should get back in touch with Laurie since she had been ‘first in line,’ and I felt that she would be the right one to produce it. ‘I just want you to sing, to feature your voice and songs,’ she kept saying.”
The two booked some time in a studio, hired a group of backup musicians and got to work. The result is an album filled with all the essentials of old-school folk music: a cappella tunes, work songs, acoustic guitars, the occasional piano and a crooning, high-lonesome alto that’s grown more plaintive with age. The album was released last week, but you can stream the full disc below.
Engine 145 ~ Juli Thanki
Alice Gerrard’s first solo album in ten years is the product of peer pressure and a chocolate addiction.
Produced by Laurie Lewis, Bittersweet, the title of which was inspired by an empty candy wrapper on Gerrard’s kitchen table—where she does the vast majority of her songwriting—is another fine addition to the storied, 50-year career of one of bluegrass and old-time’s most important singer-songwriters.
“Laurie Lewis first suggested I make a recording, and I was interested, but we both were busy and the idea just laid there,” Gerrard says, calling from her North Carolina home. “A couple other people approached me about the same thing, and I said, ‘Maybe I should start thinking about this.’ So I got in touch with Laurie, then it was another year or two before we got the recording dates set.”
Funded through Kickstarter (donation rewards included musical instruments and t-shirts from one of Gerrard’s tours with Hazel Dickens), the bulk of Bittersweet was recorded over three days in Nashville with a top-notch band handpicked by Gerrard. “The first musician that occurred to me was Stuart Duncan. I love his fiddle playing and felt like it would work well with these songs; some of them don’t automatically fit into an old-time or bluegrass format.” Joining Duncan are Rob Ickes on Dobro, guitarist Bryan Sutton, and Todd Phillips, the bassist on Hazel and Alice’s “t-shirt tour.” The odds and ends of the album—like Rushad Eggleston’s cello—were added at Lewis’ Berkeley studio.
Bittersweet—composed entirely of Gerrard originals, though she admits she’s not “the most prolific” songwriter—includes a lovely pair of tributes to dear friends. “Payday at the Mill,” a new version of a song recorded for a Harmony Sisters LP, was written for old-time fiddler Tommy Jarrell’s daughter (“a great flatfoot dancer,” Gerrard remembers), who worked at a hosiery mill. The swingin’ tune celebrates a “weekday workin’ woman, weekend queen, a time clock lady with a lazy dream” who lives for Saturday night.
The vivid and heartbreaking “Sweet South Anna River” was written in honor of Elizabeth Cotten, the fingerpicking African-American guitarist Gerrard met through her second husband, Mike Seeger. When Gerrard wrote the liner notes for Cotten’s final album, When I’m Gone, the latter mentioned that, after her death, she’d rather be laid out on a river than laid in the ground. Backed by fiddle, cello, and Barbara Higbie’s piano, Gerrard pleads, her voice raw with emotion, “Don’t lay me down in the cold, dark ground in some lonesome old grave/On the sweet South Anna River, where soft breezes fan the air/Just lay me down in a silvery gown/Wildflowers in my hair…and won’t you sing to me as I take my leave? You’re going to miss me all the time.”
Another woman Gerrard met through Seeger would end up becoming an integral part of her life and career. “Mike was working at a tuberculosis sanatorium near Baltimore where Hazel Dickens’ brother was a patient,” Gerrard remembers. “They connected musically, then Mike met Hazel and they started playing together.” Gerrard’s first husband, Jeremy Foster, was a high school friend of Mike Seeger’s, which is how hemet Dickens. “My husband came home and said, ‘There’s this little girl with a great big voice,’ and he took me to meet her. That was Hazel.” The two became friends and musical partners; Hazel and Alice would record multiple albums together, writing and singing about women’s rights and labor issues. They—along with Elizabeth Cotten—also took part in the Southern Folk Cultural Revival tours organized by activists Anne Romaine and Bernice Reagon in the 1960s and ‘70s. “At that time, people were rediscovering a lot of the old musicians and taking them up to New York and the Newport Folk Festival or the Philadelphia Folk Festival, but they weren’t really getting a lot of appreciation and exposure in their home territory,” Gerrard says. The tour, which traveled through some of the most volatile regions of the Civil Rights era America, was “both a political statement and a musical-cultural statement. We’d go out with Elizabeth, Ola Belle Reed, Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb, and Mable Hillery, bouncing around in a van, playing communities and colleges.”
When discussing this, Gerrard makes sure to emphasize one of the tour’s credos: integration. “All of us, black and white, had to travel together and eat together in restaurants. We were all out of our comfort zones at times, and we’d get some dirty looks, sometimes some remarks, but we never encountered violence…although in the early days, before we joined, they got chased a couple times by cars or people with guns.”
Looking back, Gerrard considers these trips a vital part of her musical career. “In the early days, Hazel and I were kind of clueless,” she laughs. “‘What’s going on? Why are there so many women at this concert?’ But going on Anne’s tours, getting to talk with people in Eastern Kentucky about how strip mining affected their water supply, how they broke their backs in the mines, it raised my consciousness. With Hazel, I think it gave her permission to express a lot of things that she’d been feeling…it encouraged us both to write more.”
Even with those years of practice, one type of song eludes Gerrard’s pen: “I’ve tried to write funny songs in the past, but it never seems to work out very well,” she laughs. “‘Lighthearted’ is the furthest I can get from ‘melancholy.’” Though she’s drawn to sad songs—and it seems like her expressive alto was made to sing them—the vivacious Gerrard is simply a delight. She recently celebrated her 79th birthday (“it was fantastic!”) and talks excitedly about her adopted dog, a pit mix named, in fitting old-time fashion, “Polly,” her busy summer—which includes a European tour and various teaching gigs at festivals and camps across the U.S.—and her plans for a new album that’s currently in the works. Ssome singer-songwriters of her stature would be content to rest on their laurels, but Gerrard is busy as ever, with a laugh on her lips and a song in her heart. As she sings on the Bittersweet album closer, one of those rare, lighthearted songs, “I’ve got a good feeling/ Sun, keep shining on me.”
Forever her fans ~ The Foghorn Stringband
"A true American story teller, Alice's voice is honest and powerful, just like it's always been. Her original songs are timeless anthems, pure and sincere, cutting straight to our hearts. Her new album is like a beloved old quilt you can wrap around you. Alice Gerrard brings it! 8 thumbs up! "
IndyWeek, Raleigh-Durham, NC ~ Grayson Currin
"When Alice Gerrard sings, the world around her voice seems to freeze, leaving only the sound of her lonesome burl to cut exquisite lines through space and time. She's been applying that mesmerizing tool to bluegrass and old-time music for more than four decades, but Gerrard, who lives in Durham, seems primed for reinvention right now. She recently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund Bittersweet, her first-ever album of original tunes... She's also been working with members of Hiss Golden Messenger and Megafaun, acts that cherish and translate the lessons Gerrard's revealed through her recordings with Tommy Jarrell, Hazel Dickens, Mike Seeger and many others."