Album Review: Rebecca Frazier — When We Fall
If When We Fall is not the best bluegrass album of 2013, then it’s easily among the top five albums of the year. With her emotional, powerful vocals, Rebecca Frazier—known for her work in the award-winning bluegrass band, Hit & Run—stands in the ranks of Alison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent; her compelling lyrics transport us through the pain of loss, love’s disappointments, and the hope of healing.
It’s fitting that the album opens with a shimmering, straight-ahead, traditional bluegrass take on Neil Young’s “Human Highway,” for the album records various journeys and leave-takings full of joy, sorrow, regrets, and hope. Frazier’s clear-as-a-bell voice floats along the fluid river of her band’s never-miss-a-note, crisp, and sheer musical genius. The singer “comes down from the misty mountain” and gets “lost on the human highway,” pleading that the watery mists will cleanse her and “take my eyes from what they’ve seen.”
“Better Than Staying,” which resembles the music of Ramona Church and Carolina Road, tracks the leave-takings of several individuals as they restlessly search for the promise of something better beyond the places in which they find themselves. The song’s final leave-taking, however, is a return from a life of journeying and joyous return home: “Where are you going, dear mother so beloved?/I lie so still a weeping, though my soul is called above/I hear the angels singing, and I know what they’re saying/’Come home to us, you will be staying.’”
On “Walk This Road,” led off by John Frazier’s twinkling mandolin, Andy Hall’s aching Dobro, and punctuated by Frazier’s crystalline guitar picking and Shad Cobb’s sparkling fiddles, a lover speaks forthrightly and simply about her hopes that she and her partner will travel the long road of love together, despite its peaks and valleys: “I want to hold your hand when we’re afraid/And we can laugh at all the joys we create/I’ll help you find your way/Through the darkness and the pain/So take my hand and walk me through the days…I want to be there when the sun sets after all/When life was long and we don’t have far to fall…And when the shadows fall I’ll still be by your side.”
Loss and the emptiness that accompanies it underlie many songs on the album. In November 2010, Frazier’s second son, Charlie, died. When We Fall closes with a gentle lullaby, “Babe in Arms,” in which the singer mourns and celebrates the few hours in which she rocked her newborn. As she struggles with her loss, sometimes blaming herself, she reconciles herself to her child’s death with the knowledge that he’ll always be in her heart: “You were mine for a night/Held you close, held you tight/In my heart you’ll be running wild, running free/Dancing once more here with me.”
Frazier, an exceptional and inventive guitarist (she was the first woman to appear on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar magazine), showcases her lightning fast fretwork on the album’s two instrumentals, “Virginia Coastline” and the Celtic-inflected “Clifftop.” On the first several bars of “Clifftop,” which would have been at home on an Old and in the Way or a David Grisman Quintet album, she demonstrates why she is simply one of the best flattop guitar pickers working today. Every song on this beautiful album reveals a facet of Rebecca Frazier’s musical brilliance, and not one song on the album disappoints.
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