Laurie Lewis

 

 

CD Reviews

Live ~ Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands



Laurie Lewis LivePete Milano, Bluegrassconnection.com
This is Laurie's' first live recording and based on the quality and performance it is long overdue. A top-notch group performs 18 songs of great music. If you have not heard a Laurie Lewis performance then this CD is a MUST. No disappointments here.

 

MIKE REGENSTREIF, Montreal Gazette
LAURIE LEWIS & THE RIGHT HANDS, Live (Spruce & Maple Music) The terrific fiddler, singer and bandleader comes through with one of the best live bluegrass albums of recent years. ****


Steven Stone, Vintage Guitar
"Live has all the clarity and dynamism of a studio recording but with that extra spark that only happens during a live performance... Listening to this, folks at home will havealmost as much fun as the crowd at the show."  

 

JACK BERNHARDT, Correspondent, News and Observer
Laurie Lewis is a product of California's musically progressive Bay Area, a region known not so much for following rules as for creating new ones. Grounded in the traditional music of Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, the Berkeley native has looked to bluegrass as a foundation upon which to fashion her own artistic vision.

Bluegrass, folk, country -- Lewis blends them all with a "music without borders" openness that has earned her two top female vocalist awards and a Grammy for her contribution to "True Life Blues: The Songs of Bill Monroe."

 

While Lewis' recordings have won her a legion of faithful fans, her warmth and artistry are best heard on the festival stage or in the concert hall. Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands, "Live," on her own Spruce and Maple label, is a 19-track "concert" that reprises several of her most popular songs, along with several surprises. It showcases her talents as fiddler, songwriter, singer and bandleader.

 

"Live" leads off with a brisk "road trip" to "Alaska," followed by Jimmy Martin's snarky "Before the Sun Goes Down." "Geraldine and Ruthie Mae," "Tall Pines," and "Who Will Watch the Home Place," the 1994 IBMA Song of the Year, compare favorably to Lewis' studio recordings. "Love Chooses You," a 1989 hit for Kathy Mattea, is one of the highlights of this, and any other, Lewis performance.

 

Respected for her generosity in sharing the spotlight with her bandmates, Lewis invites mandolinist Tom Rozum to the microphone for a swingy version of Irving Berlin's "Without My Walking Stick." Winston-Salem's Craig Smith takes the five-string banjo lead on "Diamond Joe," while his fellow Tar Heel, guitarist Scott Huffman, sings lead on Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever" and the Carter Family's "Worried Man Blues."

 

Closing with the swinging, Norteño-influenced "Texas Bluebonnets," "Live" documents Lewis's appeal as a multitalented artist whose music is eclectic, elegant, and wholly her own.

 

Sing Out! Magazine, Autumn, 2008

A Laurie Lewis live show is a guaranteed good time. This CD capturing 18 selections totaling over 79 minutes, right near the limit, is most generous. Most congenial, too. Laurie's fiddle, Tom Rozum's mandolin, Scott Huffman's guitar, Craig Smith's banjo and Todd Phillips' bass combine to a delicious mix. Five Lewis originals complement the others from various writers and traditional sources. Truly a rich and entertaining program. –MT

Recorded over three nights in the Pacific Northwest, Live is the perfect introduction to the music of Bay Area fiddler-singer-songwriter Laurie Lewis, who's been a leading figure in California bluegrass since the mid-70's. To cover that span, there's a healthy mix of traditional material ("Diamond Joe" and "Worried Man Blues") and coffeehouse folk (Si Kahn's "Just a Lie" and Sarah Elizabeth Campbell's "Geraldine and Ruthie Mae") alongside Lewis originals, like the a cappella "The Wood Thrush's Song," the swinging "Texas Bluebonnets," and the evergreen "Love Chooses You," a 1989 country hit for Kathy Mattea. Always a generous bandleader, Lewis gives the Right Hands plenty of room to shine, sharing leads with guitarist Scott Huffman, bassist Todd Phillips, mandolinist Tom Rozum, and banjoist Craig Smith, who consistently respond with warm, well-placed solos and strong, sympathetic support. Like the group's last album, 2006's The Golden West, this is California bluegrass at its finest, gently nudging the music leftward with thoughtful songwriting, relaxed ensemble playing, and a great respect for tradition, all mellowed with age. (Spruce & Maple Music, laurielewis.com)

 

Kenny Berkowitz Acoustic Guitar, November 2008

A live recording is challenging as well as rewarding. The loss of control as compared to a studio recording is the challenge but the spontaneity that comes from a live performance is the reward. Laurie Lewis has produced another great bluegrass album featuring Tom Rozum on vocal and mandolin, Todd Phillips on bass, Craig Smith on banjo, Scott Huffman on vocal and guitar and of course, Laurie on vocal and fiddle.

 

Live has 18 songs and includes a lot of variety. Many of them are standard bluegrass fair but there are others with more of a folk music quality. A few instruments round out the performance. The quality of the album is top notch and once you get into it, you will find the tunes worth repeating.

 

Laurie's singing is direct with a slight edge. When blended with the band's vocals it is hard to beat. The vocal by Scott Huffman on Live Forever is also a gem. I was most taken with Laurie's singing on Love Chooses You (pulls the heart strings), with Before the Sun Goes Down" (usual lover will return later song without being too serious) as a runner up. All of the music is a winner.

 

The traditional tunes and songs which the band performs also add a lot of fun to the album. "Diamond Joe" is a classic. The musicianship on the instruments is also great -- no exaggerated "look at me" solos but tasteful and well executed.

 

With the tight economy, you may be watching your music budget. This is an album that will be worth the investment.

 

Southeast Missourian, August 2008

I'm not usually a fan of live albums. There are very few in my collection, and of those there are only a handful I would consider calling "excellent." Live concerts can be great—a demonstration of musicianship and improvisation, or they can be very bad—a victim of poor acoustics, poor sound engineering or just plain poor musicianship. The result is almost always very apparent in live recordings, and the bad outweighs the good in almost every case. Live recordings generally just don't translate the feel of the event.

Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands LIVE! is an exception. The recorded tracks are taken from the best of three performances in March 2007 in Oregon and Washington. The result really speaks to Laurie's personal best, and her ability to assemble and meld with a great group of performers. The lineup is Laurie on fiddle, Tom Rozum on mandolin, Scott Huffman on guitar, Craig Smith on banjo, Todd Phillips on string bass, and Tatiana Hargreaves contributing a fiddle part on "O My Malissa/How Old Are You?" Laurie and Tom share the mic on the majority of the tracks.


The first two tracks, "Alaska" and "Before the Sun Goes Down" are good solid lead-in tunes, but the chills really start after the band introductions, with a haunting "Just a Lie." The mandolin and fiddle are terrific. Next, guitarist Scott Huffman sings a cover of Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever." "Val's Cabin" holds personal meaning for me, telling a story about a river once enjoyed in youth that has succumbed to modern times. "Love Chooses You" is a particularly nice version, featuring beautiful mandolin riffs and Laurie's awesome voice. The Right Hands' keep the old Carter Family jam standby "Worried Man Blues" from being tired and rote. The vocals are neat, and the banjo and guitar breaks are clean and clear. A detour from the usual can be found in "The Rope", which is a really great a cappella seafaring tune led by Tom Rozum. "The Wood Thrush's Song" is another a cappella treat, this time led by Laurie Lewis. This song was written by Ms. Lewis, and follows her thread of environmental awareness, without hitting you on the head with environmentalism. "Diamond Joe" is a hard driving, banjo-heavy number, sure to quench the thirst of any bluegrass fan. "Without My Walking Stick" is an Irving Berlin number covered in a very swingy fashion, highlighting some great bass work. The disc concludes with "Texas Bluebonnets", which is another swingy tune, but this one is in more of a Tex-Mex mood. Think mariachi meets banjo. (Is that possible?)


There are a total of 18 tracks on this disc (19 counting the band introductions) making this disc not only great listening, but a great value for your money. For those of you not familiar with Laurie Lewis, she is an icon of folk, bluegrass and country music. She has been an award-winning artist for more than 30 years, and this CD will be a great introduction to her talents. Her multi-genre influences are clear, and this makes for superb performances that will appeal to many. You should pick this one up soon. Laurie Lewis can be found online at http://www.laurielewis.com.


Red Deer Advocate, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada

Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands close out what has turned into a busy weekend of shows. The Waskasoo Bluegrass Music Society presents two-time International Bluegrass Music Association female vocalist of the year Laurie Lewis and her four-piece band Sunday evening at Festival Hall. Tickets for what promises to be a memorable night of acoustic, bluegrass sounds are available at the door, and in advance 53rd Street Music, Red Deer Book Exchange, the Key Hole, and Jackson’s Pharmasave in Innisfail.

 

Alberta folk singer John Spearn headlines a fundraiser for the Red Deer chapter of the Alzheimer Society November 6. Also appearing at this Matchbox Theatre benefit are Justin Stewart and Curtis Phagoo. Contact Erin or Donna for information at 403-346-2540.

 

When performed at its highest level, bluegrass music is emotional, evocative, and spot-on in its precision. Such is the recent live album from California-based Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands.

 

While some of the splices are apparent to those preferring unedited concert recordings, the strength and breadth of the music contained within the eighty-minute set more than compensates for minor blemishes.

 

Lewis is revealed as a sensitive, intuitive fiddler, one who is more interested in supportive interplay with band mates than showboating flashes of speedy sawing. Blend her dexterity within a powerhouse five-piece bluegrass lineup, and one has a winning combination.

 

This album provides a comprehensive overview of the band’s repertoire. There are a few barn-storming bluegrass numbers, including Tall Pines, Curly-Headed Woman and Diamond Joe, as well as several introspective songs such as The Rope, Val’s Cabin and the ecological lament The Wood Thrush’s Song.

 

A Lewis standard, and one of the greatest bluegrass songs of the past two decades — Who Will Watch the Home Place? — is also included.

 

Shaver’s Live Forever as sung by guitarist Scott Huffman is a highlight, while O My Malissa/How Old Are You? is not only one of the most meaningful bluegrass songs written in the past few years, it features as identifiable guitar intro as exists within the genre.

 

Featuring nimble-fingered instrumentation, passionate lead vocals, and gripping vocal trio and quartet numbers, the audio on this album is best experienced on quality stereo equipment.

 

I found it a little flat on my portable machine and even in the car, but the sounds truly came to life once I played it on the home system. Unexpectedly, I was transported to the Pacific Northwest halls in which Live was recorded last spring.

With Live, Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands confirm what astute bluegrass listeners have known for years: few bands present as complete a vision of bluegrass as this band of West Coast professionals.

 

Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands appear at Festival Hall on Sunday evening.

Donald Teplyske is a local freelance writer who contributes a twice-monthly column on roots music. If you know a roots music event of which he should be aware, contact him at fervorcoulee@shaw.ca Red Deer Advocate