Anna & Elizabeth is the second album from Baltimore’s Anna Roberts-Gevalt (voice, banjo, fiddle, guitar) and Virginia singer and banjo player Elizabeth LaPrelle. Their previous release Sun to Sun was reviewed here and is a fine example of roots music from the Appalachian mountains by these two young women. However, this new recording is such a huge leap forward that it almost makes the debut album seem rudimentary by comparison.
It’s not just the music which is so captivating. The packaging of the album is also subtle and evocative. The 36 page booklet contains not only some of the lyrics and notes about the songs but also many black and white photographs which add background and context to conjure up the times, personalities, places and memories connected with each of the stories behind the sixteen songs.
Both women have developed into first class interpreters of the old mountain songs. Whether they are singing unaccompanied or with the fuller sound of fiddle, banjo and guitar behind them the two fit together perfectly. While it may be unfair to single out one or the other it also has to be noted that Elizabeth LaPrelle is surely now the greatest singer of these songs bar none and her vocals exhibit a harsh beauty which is utterly spellbinding.
All but three of the tracks are traditional and one of those with a known composer is ‘Voice From on High’ co-written by bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe. There are some classic ballads too which are given Anna and Elizabeth’s original arrangements. ‘Orfeo’ (found in the Child ballads) has been pieced together from different versions and Elizabeth’s vocal is complemented by the uilleann pipes of Joey Abarta. There is also a chillingly dark and brooding version of the murder ballad ‘Greenwood Sidey’ learned here from Kentucky singer Addie Graham.
It has been said before that one of the best things about Anna and Elizabeth is their sheer simplicity and lack of artifice. Their honest enjoyment of the unearthing and singing of these old songs comes over never more strongly than on two tracks ‘Goin’ Across the Mountain’, originally sung about the American Civil War but with universal resonance, and the timeless ‘Very Day I’m Gone (Rambling Woman)’ which was also learned from Addie Graham.
Elizabeth (left) and Anna with one of their crankies. These are handmade scrolling pictures which tell the stories of their songs.
The new album was recorded in Floyd, Virginia where the pair host a regular radio show. It offers a more varied listen than before with more changes of tempo than their first CD and this benefits it enormously. Alice Gerrard, one of the greats of old-time music, lends a hand as guest singer and also offers a pertinent quote to the booklet: “These young women follow in the footsteps of many of our idols and mentors who’ve gone before, and they do them proud.”
Sadly, Anna and Elizabeth have no plans to visit Okinawa in the near future but those in the UK are soon to be treated to a thirteen date tour in May. This begins in Guildford on the 7th and includes venues in London, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, Edinburgh and elsewhere before ending in Maidstone on the 20th.
Anna & Elizabeth is released by Free Dirt Records.