Out of the tradition of singer-songwriters Cris Williamson, Hazel Dickens, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Joni Mitchell ("Fiddle and the Drum") and even the now legendary late singer Eva Cassidy -- is the angelic vocalist Annie Lou. With her lullaby-like melody and crystalline banjo – Annie opens her solo album with her infectious title track -- "Tried and True."
Just when you start believe the entire album will be oriented with a child like appeal – the second tune “In the Country” strikes with its hot little country-folk whip and ignites with rousing vocals, harmonies and impeccable musicianship. This tune reminds me of an obscure Decca / MCA Records folk singer named Melissa who had a wonderful song in 1971 called “Medicine Mixin,” (available on YouTube) and the early Jennifer (Warnes) – “In the Morning,” (a Gibbs brother tune -- as in Bee Gees) and Ruthann Friedman – the original writer and performer of the big hit “Windy” which was covered by The Association and became a major hit. These were magical female folk vocalists – and Annie Lou has a similar stripe -- it has that inspired spark and satisfying melodic tradition.
Fiddles – performed by Trent Freeman -- ring out in a powerful John Hartford style, the full band gallops along with infectious danceable precision. Annie Lou’s vocals are confident and she pronounces her lyrics with gullible enthusiasm. She is easily in the musical pantheon of Nanci Griffith. And as all good tunes – just when you think you could listen for another three minutes it’s over.
“Roses Blooming,” is a delightful, tightly structured backwoods fun tune. Great pedal steel by Burke Carroll with clever lyrics framed between a delicious fiddle, relaxed quality background female vocals and a sweet mandolin. It just flows and is so fluid. Filled with what music should do – make you feel young again, happy for no particular reason and maintaining its rustic quality that is authentic Appalachian music. The fact that a human can even write such beautiful, simple music that can reach into a stranger's heart – make elderly people want to get up and dance – is a miracle that doesn’t need explaining. I can see and hear the likes of a Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs and Allison Krauss soaring on such a rich melody. Annie Lou's vocals with absolutely no excess -- is a polished flourish of sound.
“My Good Captain,” is a slow, intense dirge sung with a multitude of musical colors. The bowed bass is deep and sets up the mood and resonance. The more musical of the instruments have a cumulative effect as the song builds around the story of the lyric. The fiddle and mandolin are precise. This one is old world style Appalachia and its almost religious in its texture. It treads spiritually and penetrates the soul and while it has sad strains -- there's a delightfulness about it.
The stringed instruments are recorded clear and it’s as if the musicians themselves are in your music room playing personally for you. “Sally at the Crossroads,” opens like a flower -- a "good-morning" driving instrumental that conjures roasted Cajun corn, Mason jar whiskey, apple cider, dancing elders with children, johnnycakes, syrup, old men with little black cigars stomping their boots filled with holes on the porch and a spring rain off in the distance. There is another life out there besides Wall Street and Starbucks. That's the world Annie Lou has opened for you here. Don't be foolish and ignore it. It will enrich you.
"Envy Won’t Leave Me Be,” is a humorous song sung with a tidal wave of quality and enthusiasm. Annie Lou’s vocals are invigorating and charming. How can anyone be this happy? She has that charm in her voice like the old country performer Minnie Pearl and her band plays like they took lessons from that legendary country-guitarist Roy Clark. I got lost in this so deep I couldn't remember being angry at anything on this day. I am not sure if it’s Annie's voice that drives the musicians or the musicians who are driving Annie Lou’s vocals. This is one tight band but that tightness is being accomplished without intruding on the looseness of the rustic quality of the melody. I want to join this party but….
“Haunted,” transforms Annie Lou’s voice into an absorbing country vocal.
My only problem with the tune was my initial misinterpretation of the lyric.
At first – I thought she was singing “Horny…for your love…” And that worked too – but, that wasn’t what the song was about. The song is sung in an old world country style, something from the 1920's. Bassist Max Heineman’s accompanying duet with Annie works excellently. Their harmonies are flawless. A cool shuffle with easy to sing-a-long chorus -- and it's "haunted....for your love." I stand corrected. A fun song.
Annie Lou obviously has country-folk-Americana-Roots singing down solidly.
She accentuates all the right words, slides certain lead instruments in and out of each tune with precision. Nothing ever gets crowded, and nothing sounds the same. She sings with humor, drama and never gets trivial. “Nine Bridges Down,” is a menagerie of instruments that are threaded together inventively and cleverly. These musicians love what they do.
“The Harbour Waltz” -- to my ears -- is a respective hat tip to the late, great John Hartford. And that is a compliment because Hartford was an incredible stylist of the vintage order -- he was also a licensed riverboat captain -- and he often sang about what he experienced and knew. This is a song that Hartford would have enjoyed doing with an artist like Annie Lou. Excellent fiddle, mandolin and acoustic guitars webbed intricately and flexible in its construction. Chris Coole provides the banjo and it’s all so very cool.
Annie has a penchant for piecing together melodies and vocal in an old-fashioned manner that renders a song fresh and new and not dusted off like a sad piece of nostalgia. The songs are given a string-band injection of B-12 vitamins and “It’s Hard To Tell the Singer From the Song” has some of that invigorated depth. Wonderful fiddle, effective pedal steel guitar (Burke Carroll) and it sounds as if Annie tracked her vocals into a magical harmony-duet.
Am I a big fan of this kind of music? No, not really. But this is done with such class and excellence it’s hard to not appreciate the spirit in which it was made. So, I recommend setting your Led Zeppelin, Kanye West and Taylor Swift aside for awhile and educate yourself with something that young people are obviously starting to revisit and rediscover. Songs that have to be played, understood, allowed to penetrate your pores and interpreted for all its pure delight.
With “Weary Prodigal,” Andrew Collins (mandolin, guitar) also adds some vocals along with bassist Max and Annie Lou – which creates a rocking spiritual-like tune ala wonderful The McGarrigle Sisters. Then, a solid wall of fiddles, banjo and acoustic guitars return on “Garrison Creek,” and this is an effective tour-de-force. Allison Krauss would envy this workout. It sounds spontaneous yet, it’s a fine focus melodic reel. Celtic? Irish? Appalachian? It’s all that – as performed by a woman and her highly polished sizzling band.
Concluding this adventurous and diversified collection is the poignant ballad “Welcome Song,” with its deep pedal steel gliding like an eagle over Annie Lou’s warm, delicate and sincere vocal. A smart closing…always leave them wanting more. The entire album is loose and playful, intense and breezy, an exercise in imagination and a fine example of how being retro at times – can also translate into being effective with modern depth.
I will listen to this again during the dog days of summer. I will bring a bottle of fire water, some cigars, put on a few hot wings and ribs, run under the garden sprinkler and slowly but surely I know the neighbors will join me – and they will bring their guitars, banjos, mandolins, washboards and harmonicas and we will all play along to…Annie Lou’s “Tried and True.”
That’s what I like about America and this music -- it's filled with that kind of spirit.
The album was produced by mandolin and guitarist Andrew Collins and it was faithfully recorded and mixed by Andrew as well. In Nashville? Austin? Somewhere in Georgia, Tennessee or Kentucky? Hell no, Canada. But then, Canada is North America right? So they can share in the Americana tag – because they certainly do it so well.
Many photographs of Anne Louise are courtesy of Emma-Lee Photography.
The beautiful CD packaging was designed by Brian Kobayakawa.
All songs were written by Anne Louise Genest (Annie Lou) except the traditional “Weary Prodigal.” “It’s Hard To Tell the Singer From the Song,” by Hazel Dickens.
Female backup vocals were provided by the excellent Sofia Harwell and Sarah Hamilton.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / June 2015