Band of the Day

2015.04.13

Anna and Elizabeth

Chilling messages of struggle and redemption in true Appalachian folk fashion
Go tell that ballroom lady, all decked in her worldly pride, that death train's coming, prepare to take a ride.
lyrics from Little Black Train

“Each song has a story,” says Elizabeth LaPrelle of Anna & Elizabeth. “Sometimes it’s right there in the words. Sometimes it’s in who we heard it from and how they learned it. that story, the story of why the songs endure, feels important for us to tell.” Anna & Elizabeth (comprised of multi-instrumentalist and singer Anna Roberts-Gevalt, and acclaimed Appalachian ballad singer Elizabeth LaPrelle) come from a rich tradition of singers in the Appalachian mountains and have studied at the feet of the masters. In traditional Appalachian music, the voice—unaffected and pure—is seen as a servant to the songs. there’s no maudlin emotionalism in the singing, no melodramatic tension and release; the unleavened sound of the singer’s voice is the key to delivering the chilling messages of struggle and redemption at the heart of these songs. LaPrelle and Roberts-Gevalt have honed in on that spirit, creating work that is born of tradition, yet is so personal and so passionately executed, that it speaks volumes to the modern ear. A collection of 16 traditional songs thoughtfully gathered and interpreted, Anna & Elizabeth’s new, self-titled album (via Free Dirt Records) guides listeners through the duo’s intense personal connection with each song, for a warm and intimate experience. With minimal guests and arrangements, the focus remains on the rich and subtle interplay between Anna & Elizabeth’s own harmonies and instrumentation. Fiddle and banjo lines intertwine in an age-old dance, and Elizabeth’s powerful vocals are matched by Anna’s softer timbre in their remarkably rich harmonizing. the songs are drawn from Anna & Elizabeth’s frequent visits to elder musicians in Appalachia, as well as their research on Southern old-time music. These are rare, beautiful, wondrous songs that they’ve collected from deep in the tradition, and they present the songs without artifice. A student of elder singers like Grammy nominated alice Gerrard (who guests on the new album) and Sheila Kay Adams, Elizabeth LaPrelle is the best young Appalachian ballad singer today. She has mastered the old technique of Appalachian vocalizing, which was designed in an age before amplification to cut through crowds, to cut across a crowded dance floor, to nearly cut through bone. Her musical partner Anna Roberts-Gevalt has a beautifully burnished voice that softens the hard edge of LaPrelle’s singing, often shimmering above in a delicate soprano. A master fiddler, guitarist, and banjo player, Roberts-Gevalt is a tireless student of folk arts and a dedicated song collector. Both women honor the roots of the music, but don’t see themselves as revivalists. “Everything serves the voice and the story,” Anna explains. “We try to be direct storytellers—to express these songs in a way that people of today can feel connected to. We aren’t trying to transport people to the past-- rather we are trying to bring the past back into the room, bring history into our understanding of the present.” As Elizabeth says, “The song will always travel far from the source. But we remember.”