Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands
Bluegrass has long been primarily a guy thing. I can count the number of female bandleaders who've been around more than twenty years on one hand. Laurie Lewis is among them. Her first professional band was The Good Ol' Persons, which she started with guitarist Kathy Kallick in 1977. She then formed The Grant Street String Band, who released several albums during the late ‘70's and early eighties. Her first solo album, released in 1986, was Restless Rambling Heart which was quickly followed by Love Chooses You in 1989. In 1990 Lewis put out Singing My Troubles Away which featured Scott Nygaard on guitar, Tony Furtado on banjo and Tom Rozum on mandolin. Rozum has continued playing with Lewis ever since. Shortly after her album True Stories in 1993 Lewis and Rozum were in a serious automobile accident that nearly ended their lives and careers. After taking a couple of years off to recover they released the 1996 duo album The Rose and the Laurel. It was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional Folk Album category. Her next solo album, Seeing Things, came out in 1998, as did Laurie Lewis and Her Bluegrass Pals. In 2004 Lewis and Rozum released the duo album Guest House, which brings us up to 2006's The Golden West.
Golden West features Lewis' current touring band with Scott Huffman on guitar, Craig Smith on banjo, Todd Phillips on acoustic bass, and Tom Rozum on mandolin, mandola, and harmony vocals. Guest artist Linda Ronstadt contributes harmony vocals on several tunes. Three Lewis originals join songs by Jimmy Martin, Billy Joe Shaver, Albert Brumley Kate Campbell, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, John Hartford, Karah Stokes, Scott Huffman, and Bill Monroe. The album's title comes from an obscure late-period Bill Monroe instrumental. Like much of Monroe's later work, "Golden West" has an unusual combination of modal and pentatonic melody lines that creates a slightly eerie and melancholy mood. This instrumental features solos by Lewis on fiddle and Rozum on mandolin. John Hartford's song "Goodbye Waltz" provides Lewis and Rozum an opportunity to demonstrate why they are among the finest duo combinations in contemporary bluegrass. Their voices wrap around each other and coil up like two wisps of smoke. The band's overall sound is not as hard driving as many contemporary bluegrass bands. Instead Lewis incorporates a more relaxed old time and lyrical folk mood to her arrangements.
Recorded at Sage Arts Studio in Arlington, WA, by Matt Gephart and mixed and mastered by Todd Phillips, Golden West sounds wonderful. This is no surprise as Phillips has been involved in recording many fine audiophile-quality albums over the years with David Grier, Matt Flinner, and Tony Rice. On Golden West the mix has just the right balance of proximity and acoustic space. I've heard Tom Rozum play his Lloyd Loar mandolin in person on several occasions. On Golden West it sounds just like I remember it.
Golden West grows on you, much like the thick green moss that's spread across the rocks on the album's cover. Laurie Lewis brings a different, dare I call it softer and gentler, take to bluegrass music that makes it refreshing and very appealing.