It's hard to overstate the influence Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard had on bluegrass music. Firstly, they helped popularize the genre in the 1960s and helped it spread to the neo-folkies in the East Coast cities. More importantly, Dickens and Gerrard helped pave the way for women to make a space for themselves in bluegrass music. on Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965 - 1969, we're treated to newly unearthed recordings that showcase these two towering figures of bluegrass in the midst of their creative process.
Hazel Dickens was born to a coal miner's family in West Virginia and arrived in Baltimore in the early 1950s, where she met Mike Seeger, founder of the New Lost City Ramblers and Pete's younger half-brother. More importantly for her career, she began making music with his wife, Alice Gerrard. Dickens was known for her high-pitched singing and guitar work. Gerrard, who hails from Seattle, rounded out the duo. After recording four albums together under the name Hazel & Alice, the pair irrevocably split in 1976. However, their legacy lived on: their music inspired the likes of Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, Rhiannon Giddens, Bob Dylan, and Hiss Golden Messenger.
Gerrard has been a leader in the bluegrass community -- not just as a musician and teacher but as its historian as well. She was the editor-in-chief of The Old Time Herald from its inception until 2000. She's donated hers and Hazel's rehearsal tapes from her private archive to the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC Chapel Hill. On it, the duet cover classic country songs of The Carter Family, The Louvin Brothers, and Jimmie Rodgers; contemporary hits of the 1960s penned by Dolly Parton and Merle Haggard; and barn-burning traditional standards that make these songs sound as immediate in 2018 as they did in the late 60s as well as when the songs were first conceived.
The duo's collaborative energy truly cinches these songs together. This unfiltered listen of two pioneering women showcases their crackling energy. On the album's first track, the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love," Dickens and Gerrard just don't sound too broken up about this breakup ballad. Instead, they seem to be having the time of their lives, making music just for fun with a person who truly understood the other. It's fun listening to these tapes -- not just for the outtakes, though that's fun to listen to -- but the remarkable ways the two anticipate each other as they harmonize. Obviously, some of these sound a bit rough; they are practice tapes. But it says a lot about how well Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard gelled -- at least for a time -- that they could collaborate so well in the moment. It's a rare kind of pairing, and I'm grateful that we get a look into just how genuine their connection was.
Singe Me Back Home will be out on Sept. 21 on Free Dirt Records
Sing Me Back Home Track Listing:
1. "Bye Bye Love"
2. "Tell Me That You Love Me"
3. "Seven Year Blues"
4. "Cannonball Blues"
5. "This Little Light of Mine"
6. "James Alley Blues"
7. "Little Darling Pal of Mine"
8. "Are You All Alone"
9. "No One to Welcome Me Home"
10. "Let Me Fall"
11. "Will You Miss Me"
12. "No Telephone in Heaven"
13. "I'll Wash Your Love from My Heart"
14. "Hard Time Blues"
15. "Why Not Confess"
16. "Bound to Ride"
17. "Sing Me Back Home"
18. "The First Whippoorwill" (Bonus Track)
19. "In the Good Old Days" (When Times Were Bad) (Bonus Track)