Laura Orshaw might be the busiest bluegrass fiddler in Boston, Massachusetts. The Pennsylvania native performs with five different bands in and around Beantown – including her own New Velvet Band – and seems to fill in from time to time with all the others.
This talented youngster has a great knack for bluegrass, as a singer, writer, and instrumentalist. With her new album, Songs Of Lost Yesterdays, she is set to push herself into the wider consciousness of music fans well beyond the New England area.
Orshaw has a very appealing voice. Not that of a trained or even a particularly skilled vocalist, but one with a plaintive and passionate quality that serves a song well. And she has a skill for choosing material that suits her abilities.
And while she contributes two new compositions, a depression-era ballad (New Deal Train) with sparse guitar accompaniment, and an ode to a guitar picker (Guitar Man) with a Norman Blake-ish feel, most of the tracks pay homage to giants of the genre, several of whom have gone on.
After a sprightly take on Going To The West, carried along by an all-star band of young Boston grassers, Orshaw delivers a soulful version of Charlie Moore’s The Cotton Farmer, as old time a bluegrass song as one might imagine with her dad, Mark, singing harmony. Peter Rowan (Wild Geese Cry Again) and Norman Blake (Uncle) are also represented, as is Wilma Lee Cooper on Row Number 2, Seat Number 3, which gets an old-style country treatment.
A fondness for Hazel Dickens shows up on two tracks. Coal Miner’s Grave is one of Hazel’s songs she recorded in the ’80s, a mid-tempo country waltz about the plight of the men down in the ground, and Love Me Or Leave Me Alone is a Bill Bryson song that Rose Maddox recorded, and Dickens cut in the late ’90s, which gets the full grass.
Special kudos to the band on this record. Tony Watt provides Tony Rice-inflected rhythm and lead guitar, and Catherine Bowness picks a solid banjo throughout and even drops a thumb on Uncle for the fiddle tune portion. Mandolin comes from Matt Witler, and bass from Alex Muri, both top drawer. Orshaw plays a fine fiddle, with twin parts from John Mailander. Michel Reese who engineered and produced the album, adds vocal harmony on several tracks.
Songs Of Lost Yesterdays is a very enjoyable recording of wisely-chosen songs. Keep an eye out for Laura Orshaw.
You can hear Laura perform in the northeast with Chasing Blue, one of my favorite new bands, which also features Muri and Reese, and with Jenni Lyn & the Palmetto Bluegrass Band, Tony Watt & Southeast Expressway, and The Reunion Band.