Rebekah Long has chalked up an impressive bluegrass resume over the past decade despite often staying behind the scenes. Long was one of the first graduates of Glenville State College’s bluegrass program, and spent time playing bass with both Valerie Smith & Liberty Smith and Little Roy & Lizzy (she’s also Lizzy’s twin sister). She has also worked as a recording engineer, graphic designer, and video editor for various bluegrass artists and projects. Now, Long has released her first solo project, the aptly titled Here I Am, on LUK Records.
Here I Am is largely a collaboration with Donna Ulisse, who served as producer, contributed several original songs, and also provides harmony vocals throughout the album. As one might expect, there are touches of Ulisse’s sincere singer-songwriter style here; The Maple Tree and Me, penned by Ulisse, is a good example. It’s a thoughtful, gentle number that compares aspects of nature to the singer’s inner thoughts and feelings: “My mind is like a rolling sea, moving, always changing…” He’s Never Coming Back Again is another rolling, folky song, with a wistful melody aided by Justin Moses’s fiddle and Dustin Benson’s guitar. Co-written by Long and Ulisse, the lyrics contemplate the hurt that lingers long after a loved one chooses to leave.
Long takes on a few older country songs, as well. Bluegrass bands have been turning to Merle Haggard for inspiration for years, and Long chooses one of his most well-known numbers for inclusion here. She gives The Fightin’ Side of Me a straightforward, plainspoken delivery, backed by traditional-leaning instrumentation. Though Haggard released the song in 1969, the politically-charged lyrics will likely still ring true for many listeners today. Long also covers Terri Gibbs’s early 1980s hit Somebody’s Knockin’. The original had an eighties pop-country feel, but Long gives it a contemporary grass makeover. Scott Vestal’s banjo makes the song almost spooky-sounding, and Long fills the lyrics with the perfect amount of hesitation as she sings lines like “I’m getting weaker and he’s coming on strong, but I don’t wanna go wrong.” It ends up being one of the album’s strongest tracks.
Another standout is Hairpin Hattie, a well-written ghost story somewhat reminiscent of Becky Buller’s Didn’t Die. Long, Ulisse, and Rick Stanley wrote this imaginary tale of a woman’s vengeance on cheating husbands – both her own and others. The stark, stripped-back instrumentation gives the song an eerie, chilling vibe and Long gives a soulful vocal performance. The title track should also catch listeners’ attention; accompanied only by Vestal’s guitar playing, Long pleads for understanding and love.
Long worked with Tom T. and the late Dixie Hall on several projects, including the Daughters of Bluegrass albums, and she pays homage to the couple with two songs here. She covers Tom T.’s I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew, giving the philosophical number an upbeat, banjo-guided update. She, Ulisse, and Stanley also wrote Sweet Miss Dixie Deen, a cheerful, loving tribute to Dixie’s legacy.
On Here I Am, Long offers fans samples of several styles: positive, slice-of-life songs, country covers, stark heartbreak numbers, and more. Though the album is overall very enjoyable, she’s at her best with the stripped-down, singer-songwriter style tracks, when she can fill her voice with emotion and truly connect with the listener. Though several songs tend toward a more acoustic country or folk sound, bluegrass fans should have no qualms with her backing band, which in addition to those mentioned previously, also included Jesse Brock (mandolin) and Mike Bub (upright bass). Here I Am is a strong debut, and Long should be able to look forward to a warm welcome as a solo artist.
For more information on Rebekah Long, visit her website at www.rebekahlong.com. Her album is available from several online music retailers.