Album Review: Anna and Elizabeth – Self titled – Breathtaking Appalachian roots music
Listeners can tell from the first notes of “Long Time Travellin’” that Anna and Elizabeth are not trendy revivalists trying to capitalize on traditional songwriters. They are the genuine article. This album is some of the most authentic music you will hear that’s not spinning on actual vintage records from the Depression Era. Imperfectly fine, their vocals crack and warble over exquisitely raw strings. This sounds like the mountains and will give you chills.
The second track on the album is about Hezekiah and the wall. It’s got an easy strum on a guitar that drives the railroad imagery. But more than anything, listeners feel the creeping lead vocal of Elizabeth Laprelle. Her voice sounds like it crept right out of the mountain, able to trap animals, make stew that lasts a week, and survive on very little. Anna Roberts-Gevalt’s harmonies are similarly eerie and inspiring. They draw out the depth of melancholy and despair captured in Laprelle’s style. These girls to pop or snazz up this music; they replicate and represent it beautifully. “There’s a little black train a’comin’ and it could be here tonight…” Such promise, dimly put.
“Poor Pilgrim of Sorrow” has John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress delivered in song. It relies on a hope in a “dear savior,” all the while being mired in the hardships of earthly living. It’s easy to imagine this gathering of singers being somewhere on the side of a mountain in east Tennessee or western North Carolina, wailing the cries of their souls for everyone and no one to hear.
“Soldier and the Lady” has a beautiful narrative style and a few major chords. It tells the story, unsurprisingly, of a soldier and his girl. Even though the whole album has great harmonies, the duo really shines on this one. It might be the best, most indicative track of their iconic sound. It’s sorrowful, hopeful, proud, and sweet all at once.
“Orfeo” sounds more like an Old Country song than most Americana today. It has a gorgeous, eerie quality to it. The following softer, sad “Father Neptune” feels comfortable in its minor key. It’s about a relationship and praying to a mythic god. It’s classically ancient, brought to that trendy 19th century updated sound. The duo shifts back to a standard roots sound with “Goin’ Across the Mountain.” In fact, listeners familiar with classic tracks like “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” will hear a lot of similarities here. The guitar and the banjo dance beautiful together as do, of course, the vocals.
“Don’t Want to Die in the Storm” has the feeling of a spiritual. It is a prayer, begging for mercy. Keeping with the spiritual theme “Voice from on High” sounds a bit like the Warvey Gals on O Brother Where Art Thou. The harmonies are welcome, the imagery, “He shared His blood that the world might be free” is certainly straight from a small southern Baptist church. There’s something sweetly believable in the delivery of these lyrics by two terrifically authentic voices.
The song “Greenwood Sidey” has an ominous sense to it. It’s another song about romance, but this isn’t your typical three chord love song. In fact, the repetitious backing strings create a tangible feeling of tension throughout the song. It is, in some ways, like a spoken word poem. It might not suit the fancy of every listener, but it’s a unique form full of understated emotion about death and loneliness.
“Very Day I’m Gone (Rambling Woman)” is a wonderful song with a deceptively simple melody line. The strings unfold an invitation into a feeling of peace and calm. It’s also tragic, like much of the album, with a theme of leaving. “Very day I’m gone you’ll know the train I’m on…” It’s every bit a roots song. The closer “Ida Red” keeps with the going themes of the album in both style and substance. It preserves the raw duo’s amazing vocals while also allowing the strings to portray a 19th century Americana ethos. It’s the kind of track you’d expect to swing around to on the floor of a barn with the smell of sweet straw in your nostrils.
This is a phenomenal Americana album. If I had a say for Grammy’s this has to be a contender for Americana album of the year. There’s really nothing like it in the music world today, even scouring the deep recesses of independent music sites. This is a well developed, perfectly produced, authentic Americana album. It’s a must-own, will-love album for true fans of American roots and Appalachian music.