The Hazel and Alice Sessions – Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands 

Laurie LewisOne of bluegrass music’s stalwarts is singer, songwriter and fiddle player Laurie Lewis, a main-stay among Bay Area musicians since the mid-1970s.

A lover of the hard-edged style of bluegrass music, she re-enforces that link with her up-coming album, The Hazel and Alice Sessions (Spruce and Maple Music, SMM 1013), due to be released on January 21, 2016.

Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard were each part of a pioneering bluegrass duo, two of the first prominent professional female artists in bluegrass, who paved the way for so many more.

In addition to the Right Hands (Tom Rozum – mandolin; Andrew Conklin – upright bass; Patrick Sauber [son of fiddle and banjo player Tom Sauber] – banjo and lead guitar; and Chad Manning – fiddle) the CD features young fiddle prodigy, Tatiana Hargreaves; songstresses Aoife O’Donovan, Alice Gerrard and Linda Ronstadt, as well as Mike Witcher – Dobro and Harley Eblen – bass vocals.

Laurie spoke to us about the album.

When and in what circumstances did you first hear Hazel and Alice?

“Somewhere in about 1974, someone gave me a cassette tape of Hazel and Alice’s first Folkways record.”

What aspects of their music impressed you? And how did they influence you?

The Hazel and Alice Sessions - Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands “It was instant love, I think, not just for the spirit of the music but for the repertoire choices. Here were women singing out, in voices that went way beyond terms like ‘pretty’ or ‘lovely’ to gutsy, raw, true, unvarnished, powerful. And writing about personal issues. They recorded the first women-led ‘real’ bluegrass that I had heard up to that point. I actually hadn’t realized, until I heard their record, how rare that was at that time.”

You have chosen 13 songs to record; what was the thinking behind the choices?

“We tried to steer away from their songs that felt over-recorded and find the more hidden gems in the repertoire. This left us lots of material to draw from for Volume 2, later down the line.”

The new album features songs written by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, plus traditional songs from their repertoire. The full track listing is as follows …

Cowboy Jim; James Alley Blues; Who’s That Knocking?; Walking in my Sleep; Mama’s Gonna Stay; Won’t You Come and Sing for Me?; Darling Nellie; Farewell My Home; Let That Liar Alone; You’ll Get No More of Me; Train on the Island; Working Girl Blues (complete with a third verse recorded for the first time her); and I Hear a Sweet Voice Calling.

You have three guests, Aoife O’Donovan, Alice Gerrard and Linda Ronstadt; on what tracks are they featured, please?

“Aoife sang a duet with me on Richard ‘Rabbit’ Brown’s song, James Alley Blues. Linda sang with me on Hazel’s Pretty Bird and Alice sang lead on the chorus of Working Girl Blues.”

Do you plan to visit their old stomping ground to promote the CD?

“Let’s see: that would be the DC area, I guess. We don’t get out to the east coast much these days, but Tom and I will be up in Hazel’s old stomping grounds on January 16 for a concert for the Boston Bluegrass Union, with Darol Anger, Greg Liszt and Andrew Conklin. We will be playing lots of songs from the new album up there, and I expect the members of the Filbert Society (Hazel nuts) in the audience will be quite happy!”

There is to be an official CD release concert, on February 20, 2016, at the St. David of Wales Church, 2800 SE Harrison St. Portland, Oregon 97214.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.