Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle take the listener here on a ghostly trip through Appalachian music. Spare and stark, their voices ring out over skeletal banjo, fiddle and guitar backing on 16 songs that are as old as the hills. The a capella rendition of Long Time Travellin’ that opens the album setting the scene perfectly with an emotional hit similar to that of Ralph Stanley’s rendition of Oh Death. LaPrelle’s voice is laden with tradition, able, as the notes say, to nearly cut through bone while Roberts-Gevale softens the hard edge with her mellower delivery. The album is a journey through the past peopled with the ghosts of Dock Boggs, Frank Proffit and lesser-known singers such as Connie Converse and Ms. Martha Williams who was recorded by Alan Lomax in 1937 singing Poor Pilgrim Of Sorrow, indeed the spirit of Lomax and his quest for traditional sounds looms large throughout.
Although there’s a solemn air to many of the songs such as Don’t want To Die In The Storm and Greenwood Sidey there’s a lighter air on the folky Won’t You Come and Sing For Me and Soldier and the Lady. Goin’ Across The Mountain is a glorious banjo driven breath of fresh air and Father Neptune has the simple beauty one associates with The McGarrigles or The Roches. Bare boned the album may be but they adorn the lengthiest song here, Orfeo, a take on the Orpheus myth found in the Child ballads with a misty uilleaan pipe accompaniment (played by Joey Abarta) before ending the song with a dolorous jig.
Roberts-Gevalt and LaPrelle are students of Appalachian music, studying old recordings and meeting the singers and musicians who survive today and one of those singers, Alice Gerrard (born 1934) guests on the album adding some vocals. The endeavour is a wonderful tribute to the past although as Anna Roberts-Gevalt explains “we try to express these songs in a way that people of today can feel connected to.” In that they have succeeded.