Album Review: Laurie Lewis — Skippin’ and Flyin’

Ken Morton, Jr. | October 18th, 2011

laurielewisskippinSome 2000 miles from the birthplace of bluegrass, a fiddle player named Laurie Lewis has been making her own brand of Northern California bluegrass for many years. She’s twice been named IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year and even taken home a Grammy for her work in the field. In this musical dedication to Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass Music, Lewis has collected a mix of important-to-her covers and originals that makes up a who’s who of writers and original performers. A peek through liner notes reveals names like Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, The Carter Family, Wanda Jackson, Del McCoury, Mother Maybelle Carter, Jimmie Rodgers and Wilma Lee Cooper.

The covers are inspired. On “A Lonesome Road” (written by Blue Grass Boy Joe Stuart and recorded by Monroe) Lewis sings the mournful lyrics in a matching sorrowful style. The production and enunciation alone shares what results when you listen to your foolish pride. The Tompall Glaser-written “I Don’t Care Anymore” is a delicious relationship kiss off tune that shows off Lewis’ fiddle chops. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” is another more than capable Monroe dedication where Tom Rozum plays some beautiful mandolin and Lewis finishes in a fantastic falsetto finish. A couple of singing angels also lend their vocals to the project as well. Linda Ronstadt sings harmony on the Flatt and Scruggs classic “What’s Good for You (Should Be Alright for Me)” and Del McCoury’s “Dreams.” Dale Ann Bradley adds harmony on the “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow.”

Though the classic covers are superb, interestingly enough, it is the originals and modern tracks that stand out even more and make this album special. “Pharoh’s Daughter” is a thoughtful and introspective look into the adoptive mother of Moses who defied edict after edict and kept a baby who would change the world. The baritone that chimes in on the chorus gives the song an incredible vocal sense of depth. “Hartfordtown 1944” covers the true story of a tragic circus fire in Hartford that killed over 150 people. It’s told from a fascinating perspective of a child grounded at home, not able to attend “the greatest show on earth.” “American Chestnuts” is a rich instrumental mosaic about the plague that decimated the chestnut tree population across the eastern sea board. Lewis gives the trees a voice and personality–and more importantly, human relevance. “Each year we send up our silver shoots and we will rise again,” she sings eloquently.

The album is pretty staunchly traditional in its approach to production, and unapologetically so. As a dedication, it’s appropriate, but it does result in a couple spots where it drags a bit on the album. The sparse instrumentation on “Fair Beauty Bright” and the basic bass solo on “Carter’s Blues” are a couple examples. The many highlights of the album outweigh the couple minor imperfections, however. Lewis set out to honor those that paved the way before her.  By selecting songs that helped chart her own course and penning a couple tracks that help move the bluegrass road a little farther down the line, she’s done just that–and well.

3.5 Stars

Listen to or purchase Skippin’ and Flyin’

 

  1. Sam G
    October 18, 2011 at 9:59 am

    I’ll have to check this one out, as I’ve always been an admirer of Laurie Lewis’ work. The duet albums with her and Tom Rozum are particularly good. Still, I’d like to hear more original tunes instead of another cover of “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

  2. Rick
    October 18, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Nice review Ken. It was enough to actually motivate me to want to listen to those new compositions, and that doesn’t happen very often.

    Since Barry Mazor praised the new female bluegrass group Della Mae recently, I was wondering if you and Juli are fighting yet over who is going to get to review their debut album? (lol)

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