In 1916, English folklorist Cecil Sharp visited Madison County, North Carolina, and collected almost 100 songs from two singers: Mary Sands—who sang 25 songs, 23 of which Sharp collected—and Jane Gentry, who sang 70 songs, 40 of which Sharp collected. He published them in his English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians (1932).
On Nothing but Green Willow, Nashville-based guitarist, singer, and songwriter Thomm Jutz—who also has a Masters in Appalachian studies—and English artist, songwriter, and guitarist Martin Simpson dig into this archive of songs and pay tribute to Sands and Gentry with a selection of 13 lovingly crafted arrangements. They’re joined on the album by a host of bluegrass, gospel, and folk artists including Emily Portman, Sierra Hull & Justin Moses, Odessa Settles, Seth Lakeman, Tim O’Brien, Ann Bradley & Tim Stafford, Cara Dillon, Tammy Rogers, and Angeline Morrison.
Jutz and Simpson capture the heartbreak, yearning, loss, brokenness, and hope of these ballads in beautifully sparse arrangements. Jutz’s and Simpson’s cascading guitar strums flow beneath Settles’ fierce vocals on “Pretty Saro”; her voice evokes the resilience of a narrator who carries the vision of his lover along with him as he leaves her and his home behind to travel to a new land.
In their duet on “Geordie,” Sierra Hull and Justin Moses capture the yearning of a lover as she pleads for a proper execution of her lover, guilty of murder, while Tim O’Brien’s mournful fiddling flows beneath his high lonesome vocals on the murder ballad “Edwin in the Lowlands Low.” Layers of sparkling guitar picking and fiddle pulls weave beneath Dale Ann Bradley’s vocals on the transportive “Jacob’s Ladder,” while Cara Dillon’s voice glistens on the familiar “Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies.” The album closes with Jutz’s and Simpson’s swirling guitars and tender vocals on the spacious, cinematic ballad “Awake! Awake!”
With loving care, Jutz and Simpson capture the essence of these songs on Nothing but Green Willow, conveying their beauty and grace.
Nothing but Green Willow: The Songs of Mary Sands and Jane Gentry is available HERE