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Laurie Lewis

The Hazel and Alice Sessions – 2016 (Spruce and Maple)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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CDs by Laurie Lewis

Over the past 25 years, west coast bluegrass artist Laurie Lewis has amassed an impressive catalog that's as beholden to the traditional Jimmy Martin school as it is to the folk and Newgrass pioneers of the '70s and '80s; on this new set she pays tribute to her earliest musical influences in the form of the iconic bluegrass and old-time music duo Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard.

You can hear Dickens and Gerrard in the music of so many female Americana acts, especially, that it is easy to forget how surprising they were in the field of 1960's era bluegrass. Taking a more old time tack that hearkened back to the Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe, the pair opened up the path for not only Lewis, but artists such as Emmylou Harris and The Judds to follow.

Lewis wisely chooses not to re-create or mimic the original recordings of songs presented here, but her own style is not so far removed to render the new versions unrecognizable. Rather, Lewis and company inject a modern sensibility while retaining the inherent energy and soul of the source material.

Credit players such as longtime Lewis cohort Tom Rozum (on mandolin and vocals) for the musical framework that allows Lewis and her guest duet partners such as Aoife O'Donovan and Linda Rondstadt to soar vocally. Rozum has the ability to chop out the chords on the quickstep, fast paced tunes such as "Walking In My Sleep" while also pulling back beautifully on the more sedate ballads such as "Won't You Come and Sing For Me."

Fans of the original works will find plenty to like about these lovingly rendered versions of classic and obscure songs Dickens and Gerrard recorded first, and students of the genre should appreciate the historical continuity that allows a modern bluegrass star to step back and pay tribute without deviating very far from her own established style.