Hedy West: From Granmaw and Me

Hedy West was one of the greatest of all Appalachian singers and banjo players. She died in 2005 at the age of 67 after a lengthy career with much time spent away from her roots which were in the hill country of northern Georgia. After making two albums in America in the early 1960s and gaining a reputation as a leading light of the folk revival, she moved to England where she stayed for seven years performing regularly and releasing more albums before moving on to Germany in the 1970s and then a final return to America.

West was from a background of poor hill farmers and was about as authentic a traditional singer as could be imagined which set her apart from the more city based contemporaries of her generation such as Joan Baez and Judy Collins. Despite being ‘the real thing’ her albums gradually went out of print and by the time of her premature death she had become neglected and in danger of being forgotten.

This all began to change when three albums recorded in the UK for Topic Records were released again in 2011 as the double CD Ballads and Songs from the Appalachians.  The release (reviewed on this blog) won the fRoots award that year for best re-release/compilation and helped spark a renewed interest in her work which led to her two American albums being re-released on CD soon afterwards.

Now that her reputation is being rightly restored comes the release of this short album  From Granmaw and Me – a  collection of songs she learned from her grandmother Lillie Mulkey West (hence the title). The album is previously unreleased and contains some of her last recordings. Granmaw was a great influence on the young Hedy who was always learning songs from her family, and her grandmother not only chose the selections but also narrates as we hear her voice between some of the songs.

This could have been an unwanted intrusion but turns out to be quite the opposite. In fact the use of these spoken recordings only enhances the atmosphere rather than detracts from it and this strangely puts it much in line with work being done by contemporary revivalists such as Anna & Elizabeth with their sampling of voices from the past.

The song selection is diverse and although we’re treated to some of Hedy West’s gloriously rhythmic banjo playing – especially on ‘Sally Carter’ – there is also the addition of some guitar and fiddle by Tracy Schwarz (of New Lost City Ramblers fame) and harmony vocals from his wife Eloise. The opening track ‘Lil’ Old Mountain Shack’  is co-written by Hedy West and her father while all other songs are traditional. Outstanding among many are ‘Two Sisters’ (part of which evolved into Bob Dylan’s ‘Percy’s Song’) and the gospel song ‘The Uncloudy Day’

From Granmaw and Me is released by Fledg’ling Records.

www.fledglingrecords.co.uk

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Explore posts in the same categories: Roots Music from Out There

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