Rayna Gellert: Old Light
Old Light is the first solo album by American singer and fiddle player Rayna Gellert who is based in North Carolina. In the past she has been active mostly as a fiddler in an old-time string band and comes to this recording steeped in folk, roots, and traditional music. Her debut as a solo artist was well worth the wait as this is an exemplary album on which she sings and plays some of the old songs she has learned over the years as well as some new compositions of her own. The album is subtitled Songs from my Childhood and Other Gone Worlds.
Nathan Salsburg’s guitar complements Gellert’s vocals on most of the album’s ten tracks which are divided equally between five traditional songs and five originals. Gellert’s father Dan lends a hand on banjo and the harmony vocalists include Vancouver’s Leah Abramson (from The Abramson Singers) and Abigail Washburn another banjo player whose own album City of Refuge was reviewed here a couple of years ago.
Gellert is at first glance less musically adventurous than either Abramson or Washburn but her warm and melancholy sound is always compelling whether it’s on the old ballads or the originals. Repeated exposure to the songs also reveals a common thread running through some of them concerning the fragility of memory and the ways in which the simple act of remembering can change experience. This idea is outlined best in the opening song ‘Nothing’ which contains the lines: “I could sing a song for you / And swear it’s one my father knew / But a molecule falls out of place / And I’ll forget my mother’s face”.
The theme of the unreliable narrator is followed up effectively on another original ‘The Stars’ which has a bigger sound with the addition of piano, bass, organ and drums and soon it’s apparent that this is an album of depth and poignancy. The traditional ballads are performed with great skill and the arrangement of ‘The Cruel Mother’ combines moog guitar with Gellert’s fiddle, viola and organ to create an atmospheric piece of storytelling that sounds at once ancient and modern. In fact, the putting together of these old and new songs is a masterstroke and the whole album is a great success.
Old Light: Songs from my Childhood and Other Gone Worlds is released by StorySound Records.
A video for the song ‘The Stars’ is on Rayna Gellert’s website: