When We Fall – Rebecca Frazier

The release late last month of When We Fall from Rebecca Frazier was a welcome one for fans who hadn’t heard her on record for the past ten years.

The Virginia native was very visible in the first decade of the century, living in Colorado, and touring and recording as a member of Hit & Run. Her strong rhythm and lead guitar playing put a lie to the “play like a girl” meme, and her singing and songwriting were major contributions to the band sound.

But just as the group was garnering some serious attention, she and her H&R bandmate/husband, John, moved to Nashville so he could take a job playing mandolin with John Cowan.

It wasn’t long before a new Frazier hit the scene in 2009, and Rebecca embraced the role of Mom to their first child, Jack. She continued to pick and sing as much as she could, but when pregnant in 2010 with their second child, she experienced the tragedy that is every mom’s nightmare.

“My son, Charlie, was born prematurely and lived only thirty minutes. Most mothers can probably relate that you ‘know’ your child when he/she is born, and this certainly was the case with Charlie. I held him, rocked him, kissed him, and sang to him. It was heartbreaking, but I’m so grateful for that thirty minutes with him. It was enough to last a lifetime.”

The loss stung deeply, and Frazier pushed music aside to deal with the grief. But she soon discovered that her muse might just be the best way to go through the fire and get to the other side.

Rebecca Frazier“When I was pregnant with my first son, Jack, I continued teaching guitar and played occasional gigs. Once Jack was born in 2009, we traveled to play occasional gigs (both with Hit & Run and with my honky tonk band), but John was very busy with John Cowan and filling in with Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers.

I was happy to stay at home picking my guitar by myself and with friends. And that year I spent a lot of time writing songs and transcribing solos during nap time.

In 2010, when I was pregnant with Charlie, Hit & Run did a couple of small tours in the West and Midwest, and I still taught and did the occasional session (for example, the Last Ride movie soundtrack, released by Curb Records).

Once I lost Charlie, I pulled back from performing completely. As I faced the loss, I realized that creativity might be the only way I could get through it. I put energy into the writing, and I also went through piles of work tapes and lyrics, and edited a lot of the material I’d written over the past five years, with John’s help.

Meanwhile, I had met my future co-producer & engineer, Brent Truitt, and realized that I could feasibly record an album in my own neighborhood (with the help of babysitters). That’s how When We Fall came about.”

The intense emotions may explain why this album succeeds so well artistically, or that may be incidental. Either way, the music on When We Fall is uniformly strong, placing Frazier as among the premier female artists in bluegrass.

All but two tracks are her originals. One is Neil Young’s Human Highway, which opens the album with an affecting tale of forgetting what has come before, and the other a rip-roaring take on the old time classic, I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow.

The remainder demonstrate how at home Rebecca is as a tune and song writer, above and beyond her skills as a picker and singer. Three original instrumentals punctuate the record, powerful in composition as well as performance. Virginia Coastline has a modern bluegrass feel, Clifftop is, appropriately, in a modal, old time fiddle tune style, and 40 Blues is a key of D guitar romp. All three feature brilliant contributions from Scott Vestal on banjo, particularly his low-tuned solo on 40 Blues.

The rhythm section is first rate throughout, both soloing and in accompaniment. Rebecca plays all the guitar, with John on mandolin, Barry Bales on bass, Shad Cobb on fiddle, and Andy Hall on reso-guitar. Ron Block also plays banjo on several tracks, and John Frazier and Shelby Means provide harmony vocals.

Love, loss and leaving are the themes for the rest of Frazier’s songs, but only one, Darken Your Doorway, serves up the familiar bluegrass “get lost, you rascal you” lyrical format. It’s an interesting track, as it lays down a definitive “I’m outa here” vibe with a pleasant, cheerful melody.

Others are more reflective, especially the title track which has the singer asking of her mirror, “Does it break when we fall?” and Love, Go Away From This House which showcases Rebecca’s vocal chops in a bluesy vein.

Babe In Arms, the closing track, is Frazier’s anthem to Charlie and knowing the back story makes the song that much more poignant. It is one of the four she wrote with her husband, and she tells us that working with him again on the road this summer has been a treat.

John and Rebecca Frazier with their youngest child at Telluride 2012“I’m enjoying performing with John in Hit & Run this year. I appreciate his support of my album. He was a key editor of my songs, and he put a lot of energy into making the sessions a success. I respect John’s musicianship immensely, and I’m remaining ‘in the moment’ about our working relationship.”

A reformulated Hit & Run is touring this summer in support of When We Fall, with shows across the southeast and in Colorado on the schedule.

Rebecca is finding her return to the stage very agreeable, indeed.

Hit & Run Bluegrass, 2013 style“It’s been a lot of fun seeing Hit & Run fans on the road—they are singing along with the lyrics! And some folks had become fans since I stopped performing, because they’d been given the albums somehow.

John and I have gathered incredible musicians for the touring season: Berklee alums Kyle Tuttle and Nick DiSebastian (banjo and bass, respectively) and John’s colleague from his Cowan days, Shad Cobb, on fiddle.”

When We Fall is available from popular online digital download sites, and on CD from Frazier’s web site.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.