When he visited Madison County, North Carolina, in 1916, English folklorist Cecil Sharp 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 their new album, Nashville-based guitarist, songwriter, singer Thomm Jutz and English artist, songwriter, and guitarist Martin Simpson pay tribute to Sands and Gentry on their gorgeously rendered new album, Nothing But Green Willow: The Songs of Mary Sands and Jane Gentry, out September 29th on Topic Records.
On their new single, “The Wagoner’s Lad”—which Gentry sang for Sharp, though Jutz and Simpson base their version on Buell Kazee’s 1928 rendition —Jutz and Simpson offer a spaciously unfolding and haunting version of this ballad of unrequited love and steadfast strength. Sparkling guitar notes cascade over each other in the song’s opening measures, creating a softly flowing stream over which Jutz’s and Simpson’s vocals float. In a kind of call and response fashion, the guitars mirror the vocal melody in the verses, adding to the ethereal sonic resonance of the song. The brightness of the guitars and the emotional pull of the vocals add a sheen to the song that evokes the melancholy of the lyrics. Jutz’s and Simpson’s gem-like version shines in all its facets.
As Thomm Jutz reflects on the making of the song: “Martin is one of the very few musicians who can interpret English and American Folk music styles with equal authority, which is clearly audible here. His guitar part is a gorgeous lesson in groove, syncopation, and understated, yet highly-advanced development of a melody on guitar. His vocal adds the voice of a different character to previous renditions of this song. I tried to stay out of Martin’s way and simply echoed the vocal melody on my 1941 Epiphone (previously owned by Norman Blake.) I am immensely pleased that we were able to do our share to keep these mysterious, and beautiful songs alive, to be a tributary to the great river of song.”
More about Nothing But Green Willow: The Songs of Mary Sands and Jane Gentry, out on September 29, HERE