Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969
Free Dirt Records
Rare, archival material from the most important female duo in bluegrass history will always be welcomed.
The contributions made by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard have long been acknowledged by people who have chosen to delve into their music and the events surrounding their recording and performing careers, both individually within bluegrass and old-time music and as a pioneering duo. That it took the International Bluegrass Music Association until 2017—six years after Dickens’ passing—to welcome them into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame was nothing short of shameful.
Recorded rehearsal tapes captured between jobs and child-rearing responsibilities—and at times with children running about—illuminate the process the musical partners engaged in to develop their raw and unblemished interpretation of bluegrass. Considering the intent and circumstance of the recording, the fidelity of the nineteen included songs is surprisingly acute. Recorded contemporaneously and subsequently to their initial Folkways set, these songs and recordings provide a hint into the woodshedding the pair undertook while developing their identifiable sound.
Only “James Alley Blues” has previously been released by Hazel and Alice (on the second Rounder album), and the accompaniment on these songs is minimal. We are invited guests into intimate, unfettered, and still intense rehearsals; one can easily imagine sitting at a Formica table with a cup of black coffee while watching these proceedings. Gerrard’s autoharp can be heard, setting the pace for songs as diverse as Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s “Bye Bye Love.” While most of the instrumentation is guitar, banjo leads the way on the spirited “Let Me Fall” and “Bound to Ride.”
Hazel and Alice never had much time for trifflin’, and that is clearly communicated in “I’ll Wash Your Love From My Heart,” “Why Not Confess,” and “Will You Miss Me.” “Tell Me That You Love Me” and “Are You All Alone” finds them softening their stance, while “This Little Light of Mine,” “No Telephone In Heaven,” and “No One To Welcome Me Home” have Hazel and Alice exploring the folk and country songbooks. On “No One To Welcome Me Home,” their voices blend and blur, with Hazel cutting through in supporting harmony. Hard times—a frequent Hazel and Alice subject—are explored in a rough take of “In The Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad).” “Cannonball Blues” and “Seven Year Blues” are exceptional takes.
While definitely adding to the Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard canon, these rehearsal takes also reveal the development of the singers; several tracks begin almost hesitantly, their confidence developing over the course of two or three minutes. A very welcome addition to my collection.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald