Though Lynda Dawson and Pattie Hopkins are best known in the bluegrass world for the often inventive contemporary grass they create with Raleigh-based group Kickin’ Grass, the pair heads down a more traditional path with their first release as a duo. Aptly titled Traditional Duets, Lynda & Pattie’s debut album falls somewhere in the midst of 1930s brother duos, old time mountain music, and the early years of bluegrass.
Lynda & Pattie are truly a duo – the album features only the two of them, with Lynda on guitar, Pattie on fiddle, and vocals shared between them. The instrumentation is sparse, but the songs don’t feel as stripped down as do many albums featuring just one or two instruments. Lynda is a strong rhythm guitarist, while Pattie’s fiddling is especially hot on the old time numbers.
They’ve chosen mostly familiar songs, including numbers made famous by the Carter Family, Bill Monroe, and Doc Watson. The album’s highlights are numerous, with one of the best tracks their version of the Carter Family’s A Distant Land to Roam. It’s melancholy and mournful, with soaring harmonies on the chorus. Doc and Rosa Lee Watson’s Your Lone Journey has a similar bittersweet feel. The traditional fiddle tune Train on the Island is another enjoyable piece, with a chugging rhythm behind Pattie’s fiery fiddle.
There are several of Monroe’s better known songs here, such as Sittin’ Alone in the Moonlight, which sticks fairly close to the lonesome, bluesy sound of the original, and the fiddle showcase Cheyenne. Although it’s a bit different without the typical full band arrangement that tune is usually given, this is still a fine version. The album’s other instrumental is an excellent Bonaparte’s Retreat.
>In keeping with the title of the album, most of the songs here keep the traditional sound they were first recorded with decades ago. Perhaps the biggest change made to any song on the album is the slight lyrical change in Cold Rain and Snow, leading to a reinvention of the song’s story. Fittingly, Lynda & Pattie tell it from a woman’s perspective (“I married me a man, he give me trouble…”) giving it an angry, folk-rock vibe.
The album closes on a poignant note, with an a capella rendition of the traditional Gospel piece Beautiful Hills of Galilee. This isn’t standard bluegrass a capella Gospel, tinged with the Southern Gospel style, but instead hearkens to the unaccompanied hymns still sung by many Appalachian churches, such as Primitive and Old Regular Baptists. The song feels reverent and sacred, and will likely have many listeners sitting still for a moment just to listen.
Traditional Duets is captivating. Lynda & Pattie do more with just two instruments and their voices than many groups do with a six-piece band. Although the music here isn’t strictly bluegrass (there’s obviously no banjo), fans of the genre should still enjoy it – as should those who prefer folk, Americana, or old time.
For more information on Lynda and Pattie, visit them online at www.lyndaandpattie.com. Their new album can be purchased from a variety of music retailers.