The CD, recorded live at the Freight and Salvage on May 8, 2013, features Nina Gerber on electric guitar; and Tom Rozum on mandolin, mandola, guitar and vocals; and Laurie Lewis on guitar, fiddle and vocals. They are joined by the T Sisters on harmony vocals and Tristan Clarridge on fiddle. Laurie says, “The 15 songs include many written on my retreat in Wyoming in the Winter of 2012, and the performances have that shimmering excitement of their newness about them. The CD is in a lovely letterpress package designed by Tom Rozum and printed by Stumptown Printers. It’s a joy to hold in the hand.”
All songs written by Laurie Lewis/ Spruce and Maple Music, except “Ring of Fire” (June Carter, Merle Kilgore/ Painted Desert Music Corp), ” Down to Tampa” (traditional, from Paul Brown), “Winthrop Waltz” (Nina Gerber/ Goatscape Music), and “One Sweet Hello” (Mearle Haggard/Sony ATV Tree Publishing).
Recorded live at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, CA by Ken “Easy Ed” Edwards.
Live Sound by Brian Walker
Mixed and mastered by Tom Size
Ring of Fire * My True Love Loves Me * Barstow * Garden Grow * Sailing Boat * I’m Missing You Tonight * Kisses * En Voz Baja * Down to Tampa * Trees * Winthrop Waltz * Arson of the Heart * The Crooked Miles * One Sweet Hello * With Me Wherever I Go
Down Home Music Newsletter ~ Chris Strachwitz
Recorded live at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in May of last year, this latest album from Bay Area musical hero Laurie Lewis is being hailed as yet another classic. “What is readily apparent with this recording,” writes one reviewer, “is that Laurie Lewis continues to peak.”
Here’s what Mr. Chris has to say:
“Although I have not listened to this record, I went to her show last week at the Freight where she played all the songs, and it was a delightful and varied program. I immediately got addicted to the song “Barstow”, and especially loved “Kisses” and “Down to Tampa”. Most of the songs are brand new originals by Laurie. Nina Gerber really puts in that good old country western flavor to it with her electric guitar. And you’ve got to give credit to Laurie for recording this new album live at the Freight just like in the old days: one take!”
Though she’s one of the first women to have kicked open the door of the bluegrass scene back in the 1970s, Laurie Lewis outgrew the boundaries of that genre years ago. On this live album she is accompanied by guitarists Tom Rozum and Nina Gerber for an intimate set of folk and country songs, most of them original compositions, but some of them tastefully-selected covers by the likes of June Carter Cash (a dark and personal version of “Ring of Fire”) and Merle Haggard. The trio’s sound is rich and surprisingly full, but the overall feeling of the music is intimate and quiet. Very nice.
I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed a summer evening concert under the stars by Laurie Lewis and her fine band a few years ago. This live disc recorded in May 2013 at the famous Freight and Salvage venue in her hometown of Berkley, Calif., is a good reminder why Lewis is so special as an entertainer. A big part of that is her band members, the superb Tom Rozum on mandolins and guitar and vocals, Nina Gerber on guitars, and Lewis herself on banjo, fiddle and guitar.
Almost all of the 15 tracks on One Evening In May are new original songs by Lewis, with a few exceptions, including the brazen opener, the Johnny Cash standard “Ring of Fire.” It’s a knockout of a cover, too, with just the two playing a spare but intense arrangement behind Laurie on acoustic guitar. It’s a bold statement that this is not a bluegrass album, but one of country-style folk music in all its guises, starting with the next track, “My True Love Loves Me,” an engaging love song in Appalachian style, Lewis’s strong and clear vocals abetted by fiddling from Tristan Clarridge.
Lewis is a whiz on fiddle and banjo in addition to singing and playing guitar, but she’s a generous bandleader, letting Rozum and Gerber shine in their own ways throughout the program. Rozum, just for example, stands out with his mandolin picking on the sprightly contemporary folksong “Garden Grow,” dramatic mandola on the ballad “En Voz Baja,” and singing lead on the lightly swinging cover of Merle Haggard’s “One Sweet Hello.” Gerber does some delightfully delicate picking on her electric guitar on that song, too, and fills the poignant ballad “Barstow” with appropriately dusty twang.
I’d be remiss to not mention the stately and powerful environmental anthem “Trees,” which Lewis almost carries by herself, although Clarridge, Gerber and Rozum build drama as they play chords behind her, and the clever ditty “Kisses,” in which Lewis runs down all the various kinds and their meanings and significance. It all adds up to strong and entertaining album.
You can listen to “My True Love Loves Me” and “Trees” on Lewis’s page at Hearth Music.
Long a respected, influential figure on the West Coast roots scene, singer/multi-instrumentalist Laurie Lewis divides her performances and recordings between the overlapping traditions of folk and bluegrass. On One Evening in May, captured at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse on May 8, 2013, she and friends, most notably Tom Rozum and Nina Gerber, spotlight — albeit not exclusively — Lewis’s folk-flavored originals. While there is no bluegrass, three of the songs (“My True Love Loves Me,” “The Crooked Miles,” “With Me Wherever I Go”) take their inspiration from the mountain music out of which bluegrass evolved in the mid-20th century.
Lewis, it bears noting, is not ordinarily thought of as a singer-songwriter. In that sense she reminds me of the late Dave Van Ronk, who was primarily an interpreter; when he wrote his own songs, they were invariably well-crafted and meant to last. Few singer-songwriters manage to fashion consistently first-rate material. Artists like Lewis and Van Ronk, at ease reinventing others’ work, save their songwriting for those occasions when they have something worthwhile to say and a melody to match.
The light-hearted “Kisses,” a discourse on the variety of same, claims the distinction of being the only song I’ve ever heard that uses the adjective “quotidian.” It also occasions the thought that people must toss kisses around with far more abandon in California, where Lewis dwells, than do we undemonstrative Midwesterners, who keep even tepid hugs to the barest of minimums. The more somber, novelistic “Barstow,” about a long life in a desolate place, is not to be confused with Jay Farrar’s apocalyptic musical prophecy of the same title. There must be something uniquely unsettling about that city (pop. 22,000, in the desert of San Bernardino County), references to which show up in a surprising number of songs, and practically never in flattering contexts.
My favorite of the originals, “Sailing Boat,” amounts to five and a half minutes’ worth of hypnotically extended metaphor, the lyrics and melody attesting to Lewis’s grasp of the power of old ballads. If not exactly a ballad, it feels as if derived from one in the way “Storms Are on the Ocean” began its long life amid verses to the broader narrative of “The Lass of Loch Royal.” Over the years Lewis’s performances have moved me and stayed stubbornly in memory, but even so, this one particularly commands the heart. Another standout, “Trees,” takes an honorable place among others in which Lewis has evoked nature and environment. Rozum gets to shine on the traditional “Down to Tampa” and on Merle Haggard’s “One Sweet Hello,” Gerber on her alluringly tuneful instrumental “Winthrop Waltz.”
If you’re wary of live albums, don’t worry. The audience, always respectful, keeps its applause to the end and doesn’t bellow out requests. Meantime, Lewis and accompanists attend to the singing and the picking, not to the showing off. As an added virtue, One Evening is more than an hour’s worth of CD, a small miracle in an age when many discs don’t make it to half that.
CMT Edge ~ Craig Shelburne
As an award-winning bluegrass singer, Laurie Lewis is a natural storyteller. That’s particularly true in her poetic folk ballad, “Barstow,” which she wrote after driving through that California town a few years ago. She was surprised to see that the downtown looked closed up and deserted, then realized chain stores had taken root on the other side of town, just off I-10.
“I started wondering why anyone would choose to live there, and the story just unfolded for me,” she tells CMT Edge. “I pulled off at a rest stop and started scribbling it down madly to capture as much as I could of the place and the protagonist’s circumstances.”
After carrying it around for a few years, Lewis turned her character’s story into a song. Now, “Barstow” is a highlight of One Evening in May, an album she recorded with musicians Tom Rozum and Nina Gerber at the esteemed Freight and Salvage club in Berkeley, Calif.
“Singing a song like this is an exercise in staying present. There isn’t much going on chord-wise or even melodically, so it’s only the story that holds my attention,” she says. “If I start to drift out of the present, I could get lost instantly, but if I stay within the story, it just unfolds easily.”
Asked what runs through her mind when she sings the song, Lewis replies, “I imagine the dry Santa Ana winds, the gritty sidewalks, rundown train yard, greasy spoons and funky old motels juxtaposed with the sterile gas stations, fast food restaurants and hotel chains at the edge of town. And so many types of people just trying to make a living.”
Depending on how you look at it, the character in “Barstow” could take solace in finally settling down or face the frustration that she never moved on. Even though she escaped a tough situation just before arriving in town, Barstow was only intended to be a stopover.
“I love that she ran away to save herself. I don’t know from what exactly,” Lewis says. “I really like the way she started out so anxious to get out of Barstow and, of course, passed that discontent on to her daughter and then how she came to terms with living there and allowed herself to see the stark beauty of the place.”
However, the restless daughter didn’t see things the same way. So, what happens next? Listen to the live rendition of Laurie Lewis’ “Barstow.”
Third Coast Music ~ John Conquest
Had you been in Berkeley, CA, on May 8th last year, there might have been a better way of investing a pony than going to The Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse, but it’s really hard to think what it could possibly have been. That night, Lewis, vocals, fiddle, banjo, Rozum vocals, mandolin, mandola, guitar, & Gerber electric guitar, with some help from the T Sisters (Chloe, Erika, & Rachel Tietjen) harmony vocals and Tristan Clarridge fiddle, recorded these 15 tracks. However, there’s another, rather crucial credit, which goes to Ken ‘Easy Ed’ Edwards of Multitrack Concert Recordings. I have no idea what multi tracking involves, technically or financially, compared to the rather more usual method of recording direct to stereo, but judging by this album, it adds about eleventh dimensions. Of course, it helps when you’re in a room with legendarily great acoustics, and even more when you’re recording musicians of this caliber. With 11 Lewis originals, written at a retreat in Wyoming, plus covers of June Carter and Merle Kilgore’s Ring of Fire, the traditional Down to Tampa, taken from Paul Brown, Gerber’s Winthrop Waltz and Merle Haggard’s One Sweet Hello, these are three extraordinary musicians who should need no introduction, though I admit there’s a special place in my affections for Gerber’s stellar guitar playing. If you’re a little surprised to see Laurie Lewis’ name in 3CM, a bluegrass website noted “The tone of the project is more folk than bluegrass,” which, while I’m pretty sure this wasn’t meant as a compliment, works for me. This may be the best live recording I’ve ever heard.
The Bluegrass Situation
It would be hard to fault any artist who opts to open their live set with a lilting version of a familiar standby like “Ring of Fire,” but happily, with the 14 songs that follow, Lewis, Rozum and Gerber prove that they’re not dependent on familiarity in order to sway the masses.
Utilizing three voices locked in perfect harmony and a traditional tapestry consisting of fiddle, banjo, mandolin, mandola and guitar, these veteran players charm and caress via a set of weathered originals and the occasional cover.
Recorded live in concert, One Evening In May offers a soothing and sublime respite that fully reflects the music’s gentle embrace. That stirring yet unobtrusive pastiche is reflected in each of these songs, with “Barstow,” “I’m Missing You Tonight,” “Kisses” and “The Crooked Miles” stirring those sentiments into an essential Americana brew. One would be hard-pressed to find a more charming and yet tasteful display.
Laurie Lewis’ brave and challenging One Evening in May will likely confound some listeners as much as it impress others. This album is unconventional, surprising, and no little bit excellent.
Lewis’ new live album is both brave and challenging for good reason. She leads a trio that includes long-time collaborator Tom Rozum and electric guitarist Nina Gerber and has elected to capture songs recorded live on a single evening at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage.
Not only that, but she has chosen to build the bulk of the album around newly written songs. Therefore, few of these songs will have been heard by any but the most ardent of Lewis’ listeners. I’ve been intently listening to Lewis for more than a dozen years, and nothing sounded familiar to me. Well, almost nothing; more on that later. No “Who Will Watch the Home Place?” No “Tall Pines.” No “The Wood Thrush’s Song.”
This album then is a whole new listening experience, one that captures Lewis and her cohorts in a very comfortable setting, and I imagine this will be what confounds some who experience this album expecting the tried and true. As most who have listened to Lewis for longer than a festival weekend will attest, it is this very unconventional approach to music that has helped Laurie Lewis remain at the fore of string-band influenced, modern folk.
While there is little to connect the music contained within One Evening in May with bluegrass, neither is there a great deal beyond instrumentation removing it from that world. The themes Lewis explores are definitely ‘grass-friendly, and it is to her credit that she effortlessly breaks the confines of genre. More Blossoms than Skippin’ and Flyin’, those attracted to Lewis’ warm personality and charming music will find One Evening in May very attractive. Select songs also feature harmony from the T Sisters, and a pair have fiddling by Tristan Clarridge, providing a more fully enveloped context.
While the songs are unfamiliar, they don’t remain that way for long. “Arson of the Heart” and “Garden Grow” are jumpy little numbers that allows the trio to rock out, joined on the latter by the exuberant Tietjen Sisters. After this bit of frivolity, Lewis settles into one of the album’s most significant songs.
“Sailing Boat” could have come from Guy Clark or Mary Chapin Carpenter, and now that I think about it, so too could have “Garden Grow.” Like many of Lewis’ compositions, “Sailing Boat” uses finely hewn lyrical phrases to create vivid images and a contemplative mood that remain fixed in the psyche long after the chords fade. The metaphor is indeed a boat bound for the reef, but the human relationship is unambiguous.
“Barstow” is quite wonderful, a short story in song deserving of a literary label. Her personal compendium of “Kisses” balances the density of the songs that surround it, while simultaneously revealing a depth of consideration that may escape notice within clever wordplay. “En Voz Baja” and “The Crooked Miles,” a song of joyful reflection, would not be out of place on Emmylou Harris albums of the 70s.
I quite appreciate the spritely banjo tones that Lewis brings to the rousing album closer, “With Me Wherever I Go.”
Mandolinist Tom Rozum is afforded considerable space within this recording, providing his impeccable rhythm and tone throughout. He takes the vocal lead on “Down to Tampa” and “One Sweet Hello,” but it is the colorful fills and supportive notes he provides on songs such as “Barstow” and “Kisses” that are his most true contributions. Nina Gerber is allowed to showcase her playing on the instrumental “Winthrop Waltz,” and like Rozum she is a gifted collaborator whose talents are essential within this trio. She cuts loose on “I Missing You Tonight,” laying out classic-sounding guitar lines.
Beyond the overall quality of the production—the sound recording and both the understated album packaging and graphics (kudos, Mr. Rozum) are immaculate. What is readily apparent with this recording is that Laurie Lewis continues to peak. Her albums stretch back more than thirty years, and among them are several bona fide classics including The Oak and the Laurel,True Stories, Laurie Lewis & Her Bluegrass Pals, Skippin’ and Flyin’, and Guest House. I would suggest that we add One Night in May to that list.