Hear It First: Rayna Gellert, ‘Workin’s Too Hard’

by Elena See, Folk Alley

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They say the devil’s in the details and when it comes to storytelling, those devilish details are especially important. The difference between a great storyteller and a ho-hum storyteller? The great storyteller knows exactly which details to include in his or her story…and which details to leave out. With a voice that’s as warm as a crackling fire on a sub-zero January day, Rayna Gellert’s detail-filled songs on her new album Workin’s Too Hard represent storytelling at its finest.

After listening through Workin’s Too Hard just once, it’s clear that Rayna Gellert, for all her technical virtuosity as an instrumentalist (she’s a first-rate fiddler), has a deep and profound appreciation and respect for the simplicity of old-time American music. Her original songs sound like they could have been written decades earlier, probably a nod to Gellert’s childhood, growing up steeped in the traditions of Appalachian ballads and stringband sounds. And the way she delivers those songs? Sheer perfection: she knows exactly when to step back in a story to give it a little room, to give the listener a chance to catch up (the fiddle break in “Perry” serves as a good example).

Gellert admits reaching into her own life experiences for inspiration in Workin’s Too Hard, but, again, there’s simply no escaping her respect for musical traditions of the past. These are characters we’ve all met or known before: your down on his luck character, just trying to make it through each day in the title track, your character who warns that going through life not making any decisions is, actually, a decision (“River Town”), and the character with arms and eyes wide open to any experiences that might come his or her way (“I’m Bound for the Promised Land”).

Recording with Kieran Kane and engineer Charles Yingling (and other talented friends, including Kai Welch and Jamie Dick) in one room, Gellert pours her heart and soul into these seven tracks. Her voice is intimate and it immediately grabs your attention because it’s not TRYING to grab your attention. Instead, the quality of Gellert’s vocals forces you to lean in to really understand the story she’s telling. And by the time you do that, well, that’s it. Rayna Gellert has you by the heartstrings and she isn’t letting go.


Workin’s Too Hard is out on January 20th via StorySound Records and available at iTunes and Amazon.com

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