International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame member and Grammy nominee Alice Gerrard’s new Sleepy Cat Records album, Sun To Sun, is clearly meant to appeal to both purists and newbies alike. Having spent nearly sixty years as a staunch champion of traditional music, she makes no concession to contemporary influences, because indeed, she has no need to. Her groundbreaking recordings with the legendary Hazel Dickens set the standard for much of what was to come later on.
Aside from the fact that her songs have been recorded by Kathy Mattea, Cathy Fink, Allison deGroot, and Rhianon Giddens, among the many, she was also a founder, editor, and major contributor for the Old-Time Herald, a magazine that promoted old-time music, as well as the Old-Time Music Group, a non-profit organization that oversaw the magazine’s overall operations. She’s toured the world, taught at workshops throughout the country, served on the boards of the Newport Folk Festival and the Institute for Southern Studies, and been honored with a Virginia Arts Commission Award, the North Carolina Folklore Society’s Tommy Jarrell Award, and an Indy Award. A documentary film about Gerrard’s career, titled You Gave Me a Song, premiered at the Full Frame Independent Film Festival in 2019.
All of which brings us to her new LP, Sun To Sun, an album that retains her allegiance to folk, old time, and bluegrass music’s seminal origins, courtesy of songs that can appeal to a new generation of listeners while also still staying true to their archival origins. In fact, most of the material easily sounds as if it was drawn from some sort of folk music songbook and revisited here for the very first time. They share the same sepia tint as far as the dictates of both command and credibility are concerned.
While certain songs are stripped down to the basics, often in a cappella settings — How Can I Keep From Fishing and Remember Us in particular — the rest of the material maintains a playful panache, be it the easy strut and strum of Sun To Sun, the jaunty Keep It Off the Seat, the decidedly down home, Winding Road, the sentimental sway that wafts through If I Could See Your Face Once More, and the folksy fiddle that shines throughout How Now Brown Cow.
Despite the music’s often delicate designs, Gerrard has an ample ensemble lending support, including Tatiana Hargreaves on fiddle and harmony vocals, Reed Stutz on mandolin, banjo and harmonies, Gail Gillespie on banjo, Hasee Ciacco playing bass, DaShawn Hickman playing pedal steel, Nick Falk on drums, Phil Cook on piano and synth, Marcy Marxer on lead guitar and banjo cello, and Joseph Djarnette playing electric guitar.
Their combined efforts result in a richness and purity that not only brings the music to a full flourish, but illuminates the sentiment Gerrard shares throughout. That in turn, allows Sun To Sun to consistently radiate a ceaseless glow. Indeed, as always, she shines quite brightly.