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Rising Appalachia

Wider Circles – 2015 ( Self-released)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by Rising Appalachia

As would be expected from a band called Rising Appalachia the sound is rooted in folk, gospel and bluegrass, but multi-instrumentalist sisters Leah and Chloe Smith weave disparate elements including jazz, hip hop and reggae into the mix. Even the covers of traditional tunes are given unconventional arrangements. "Oh Death" begins with a jazzy bass line and smooth harmonies by the Smith sisters, then transitions to a poetic recitation by Theresa Davis. The usually bouncy, up-tempo "Cripple Creek" is delivered here in mournful tones, while similarly "Fall On My Knees" has a more somber feel than the version by Old Crow Medicine Show.

The originals display equal diversity. The folk ballad "Lean In" features an effectively incongruous trumpet by Maurice Turner in the mix with acoustic guitar and banjo. The percussion driven "Spirit's Cradle" has a recurring riff reminiscent of Santana's "Oye Como Va," as well as an extended poetic social commentary from Leah Smith that condemns the justice system ("Now, there's a criminalizing of races with fear/Now cops are making folks disappear").

Other highlights are the reggae flavored "Medicine," which extolls the virtues of folk medicine ("Medicine woman, medicine man/Walking with grace, I know your face, I know your hand"), and the sweetly sentimental "Find Your Way" that offers both parenting advice ("Hold 'em up in mighty shoes and/Teach them strength and let them choose") and encouragement to youths ("Whether you fumble or stand graceful, darlin'/Find your way").

In addition to sisters Leah (vocals, poetics, banjo, fiddle, bodhram drum, tambourine) and Chloe (vocals, banjo, fiddle, guitar, clave) the band is rounded out by Biko Casini (djembe, congas, various percussion, bells) and David Brown (baritone guitar, standup bass, banjo). With strong originals, nicely chosen covers and stellar performances, Rising Appalachia entertains.