The Honey Dewdrops are a husband and wife duo from Scottsville, Virginia. Kagey Parish and Laura Wortman must have known each other for years; harmony singing this close is normally associated with brothers and sisters. The Dewdrops sound is old timey: guitar and mandolin or two guitars, but one of them with nylon or gut strings. Comparisons to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are obvious, but the material and delivery are so strong that it’s hard not to like this album. In fact any concern about copycats is quickly replaced with wonder about why more singers don’t borrow from Gillian & Dave.
“Nowhere to Stand” draws comparison to a card game and the game of life. “Fly Away Free” speaks to anyone ready to make a big move. “When Was the War” is a pre-answered question, but history and families appear doomed to keep asking. In each of these songs Laura’s lead voice commands your attention and Kagey’s guitar fills are tasteful. The Honey Dewdrops first received national attention by winning Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion contest in 2008 for “Talent in Their Twenties.” The next question is this one: How good will these two be in their thirties?
Jakob Dylan first made the national spotlight with his rock group, The Wallflowers. As a member of Rusty Truck he found a comfort level with Americana. His last two solo recordings are very acoustic, however, and the subject matter is serious and very much folk. Songs here focus on what mine workers or poor farmers must be thinking. He takes on old issues which are suddenly contemporary such as foreclosure (“We Don’t Live Here Anymore”). Like his father (Bob Dylan), Jakob uses analogy, imagery, and often delivers both with a forked tongue: “….My sweetheart, we’ve got to learn to live with these ghosts. They can’t leave, we can’t go…”
Unlike his last album Seeing Things (2008), these songs are methodical and somewhat dreamy, but the subject matter calls for it; at least that’s the way Jakob hears these calls. There is a repeating plea to God in several songs suggesting that he is beginning to question even the highest powers.
During a recent appearance on NPR’s Weekend Edition host Scott Simon asked what Jakob’s father thought. Jakob responded: “….my father told me that it’s his favorite music right now and it’s all he’s listening to.” Obviously a dad is easily biased, but when has Bob Dylan led us astray?
Mary Gauthier (“go-shay”) has given us several albums which are deep and dark and now we can begin to understand why. In 1962 Mary was given up by her birth mother for adoption. At the age of 15, she left her foster parents and has continued to feel out of place for most of her life. Recently, she decided to find her mother, but struggled in the search. Gauthier took one last stab by hiring a detective. Five hundred dollars and a few weeks later her mother was identified. Then came the hard part.
Mary called her mom, but was refused more than a brief conversation. Her mother didn’t want to relive the pain of the past. There is also reason to believe that her father didn’t even know that Mary was born.
All the songs on this album are about this experience. If your background is similar, this is a must listen. If not, you’ll get the picture in one or two songs. Still, it is compelling to wonder what your own life would have been like if this had been your fate. Obviously, this was a difficult process to share and Gauthier should be praised for coming forward. It’s easy to predict, however, that more deep and dark songs will follow…
Here is yet another father/child combination. Daughter of Pierce Pettis, Grace is only 22 and this is her debut. She showcased at Folk Alliance International in Memphis in February. I was prompted by many to see her and came away with the find of that week.
Grace was accompanied by cello (Dirje Smith) and guitar (Billy Crockett). She was absolutely prepared to make a good impression and the audience of media types and promoters came ready to support her. It was compelling to be part of such a positive experience.
There was also a sad moment. She connected directly with listeners right in front of her through the song “What You Didn’t Want to Know.” One of the reasons we are drawn to songs or poetry is that good writers allow us to jump in as if the songs were about us. Usually, they are. In this song, Grace breaks through a barrier to address the listener individually with bad news. It was a powerful and sweet moment simultaneously.
By the way, Grace has lots of range and power in her delivery, and a way of phrasing words and connecting thoughts similar to her father. Though young, she has experiences to draw from: a miserable first job in “9 to 5 Girl,” and a trip abroad in “Italy.” She’ll have more experiences right ahead of her as she is engaged. We all have a lot to look forward to with what Grace will be offering in the years to come.