Anna & Elizabeth: The Invisible Comes to Us

The Invisible Comes to Us is the third album by Anna & Elizabeth who have been championed by this blog for a long time. The two have a special love for Appalachian mountain music and Elizabeth LaPrelle is the finest living traditional ballad singer bar none. It has been three years since their last album and this new release takes their exploration of old songs into groundbreaking new territory.

With their feet still firmly in this world the partnership moves forward to embrace some pioneering experimental arrangements. Multi-instrumentalist Anna Roberts-Gevalt recently immersed herself in the Brooklyn avant-garde community and this is co-produced by her and Benjamin Lazar Davis. As a result many of the songs are presented with hints of woodwind, brass, synths and new technologies that subtly complement but never overwhelm the stories being told.

In the sleeve notes the duo writes: “These are songs we first heard in small archives in our home states, Vermont and Virginia. Recordings made in living rooms and kitchens, of songs learned in childhood. The characters, and the landscapes they occupied, grew rich in our minds. This record grew out of the desire to show you the world we saw in these songs.”

Among many standout tracks are ‘Black Eyed Susan’ and the old Vermont hymn ‘Mother in the Graveyard’ which find the pair on relatively familiar ground. The superb ‘By the Shore’ with its jazzy opening backdrop and Anna’s overlapping vocals even has echoes of Brecht and Weil not to mention Laurie Anderson. It was experimental enough to disturb my cat who normally takes no notice of the many sounds that waft around our home.

Anna & Elizabeth have done a wonderful job of reimagining these songs for a modern audience and most of all they have made a sublimely enjoyable album. Folk song contains universal truths and though the times may change the same concerns continually engage us. This is strikingly brought home in the words of the song ‘Jeano and Jeanette’ that opens the album and also closes it with a crackly fragment of a recording from Margaret Shipman whose voice speaks to us from the past:

“If I were Queen of France or still better Pope of Rome / I’d have no fighting men abroad nor weeping maids at home / All the world should be at peace and the right should be the might / I’d have all that made the quarrelling the only ones to fight.”

Anna & Elizabeth are currently touring the East Coast of the USA and their final date is in New York City on 23rd April with guests Jim White, Susan Alcorn and Benjamin Lazar Davis. Then in May they tour the UK and Ireland ending with dates in Sheffield (15th) and London (16th).

The Invisible Comes to Us is released on 30th March by Smithsonian Folkways.

www.annaandelizabeth.com

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