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Laurie Lewis

Blossoms – 2010 (Spruce and Maple)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Laurie Lewis

Laurie Lewis has been a formidable presence on bluegrass and folk circuits for decades. Whether as an in-demand fiddler, as a harmony vocalist, songwriter, or leading her own outfits, Lewis has redefined the role of women in bluegrass. "Blossoms" is a change of pace from most recent Lewis albums. Bluegrass Right Hands Scott Huffman and Craig Smith appear on select tracks, and regular collaborator Tom Rozum pops up in a couple of places, but the emphasis here is on Lewis' voice. In fact, she fiddles only selectively, augmented by the likes of Chad Manning, Darol Anger, Brittany Haas, Alex Hargreaves and Suzy Thompson.

Fully a modern, acoustic folk album, "Blossoms" contains 14 tracks with few sharing a consistent personnel line-up. Despite this diversity, the music holds together. While deliberate stylistic variation is absent, the themes of the songs - forgiveness, acceptance, remembrance and understanding - are effectively communicated, and the album has enough changes of pace to keep listeners engaged.

"Blossoms" most elaborate track may be Sirens. Ostensibly a rumination of depression and the lure of suicide - "I know my fate should the song take hold"- this sensitively-phrased original is both compassionate and challenging. Lewis' unaccompanied vocal take of Return to the Fire is as breathtakingly impressive as the opening a capella trio treat that opens the disc, How Can I Keep from Singing?.

Wendell Berry's Port William is visited through a rendering of Burley Coulter's Song for Kate Helen Branch, lending Berry's poetry a mountain melody reminiscent of Rain and Snow. A pair of instrumental fiddle tunes provide a mid-set palate refresher, with Beaver Creek-featuring Smith on banjo and Rozum on mandolin - for those who expect a bit of bluegrass within a Lewis set.

Always moving forward, "Blossoms" has more in common with earlier albums "Seeing Things" and "True Stories" than some may anticipate.