There’s not much about the fiddle that Laura Orshaw doesn’t have an absolute command of, and she demonstrates that to great effect on her new solo effort from Dark Shadow Recording, Solitary Diamond. Arguably one of today’s top traditionalists on the fiddle, Orshaw has put together an excellent album that shows off both her fiddle skills and her vocal prowess. With an excellent backing band and plenty of musical and vocal duet partners, Orshaw has provided listeners with much, much more than the standard collection of fiddle tunes one might expect.
Several singles have already found love from radio listeners, including the triple fiddle delight, I Can’t Settle Down. Penned by Roberta Gordon and Tim Carter, it’s a square-dance themed rounder song, telling of a female fiddler who has a man in every town she passes through. Joining Orshaw on fiddle are fellow experts Jenee Fleenor (who also joins in on vocals) and Brittany Haas. It’s a fun number just itching for a crowded dance floor. Another strong single is On Her Own, a Porter-and-Dolly style country duet featuring Trey Hensley as Orshaw’s vocal partner. This is one of the album’s best songs, telling the story of a female singer trying to make it on her own, but missing the man who used to stand by her side. It features some fine banjo work from BB Bowness and Eli Gilbert, and nice guitar from Tony Watt.
Orshaw’s love of classic country comes through not only on that track, but also on several cuts paying homage to some of her country heroes. After You is a fast-paced traditional grass update of a George Jones deep cut, with bitter, heartbreak-filled lyrics, and hot picking from Bowness on banjo and Reed Stutz on mandolin. Closing track Hank is, as listeners may have guessed, a tribute to the great Hank Williams. It’s not the typical bluegrass-style recitation of song titles or a musician’s life story, but instead a vow to find inspiration in a new place – specifically, Williams’s home of Montgomery, Alabama.
A few songs here draw inspiration from history. Tim Stafford and Thomm Jutz’s High Mountain Rising is a lovely song with a melancholy, fiddle-led melody about a mountain midwife. The song has a personal connection to Orshaw, who notes in the album booklet that her great-grandmother was a midwife in rural Pennsylvania in the early part of the twentieth century. Band of Jesse James, written by Jim Ringer, draws inspiration from the old west, comparing a wild, rambling man to train-robbing outlaws of days gone by. It’s a truly well-written song, with excellent turns of phrase and clever analogies that will have you rewinding to catch them all. “He couldn’t stay, he slipped away like an outlaw on the run,” Orshaw sings. “Wild horses couldn’t catch him, I couldn’t hold him with a gun.”
Another highlight on the album is the Orshaw original Lonely is My Name, co-written with Po’ Ramblin’ Boys bandmate Josh Rinkel. There’s a Jonesian vibe here as well, with a country shuffle sound and loneliness personified in the lyrics: “Don’t complain about my presence, her slamming door just let me in… I’ll be here most all night, since you’ll need company. Now I’ll introduce myself, they call me lonely.” Alecia Nugent and Alan Bartram add fine harmonies, and Orshaw’s country fiddling fits the song perfectly.
Orshaw has proved her bluegrass chops as a side-woman in several bands, but Solitary Diamond puts her front and center. This is not a “fiddle album” – though the fiddling is top-notch – and it’s not just a side project. I would put this up against most any established artist’s release this year, and expect Orshaw to come out on top. Strong songs chosen from the country vault and from a few strong bluegrass writers, Orshaw’s commanding, clear vocals, and top shelf musicianship make this album one not to miss.
For more information on Laura Orshaw, visit her online. Her new album is available from several online music retailers.