She may be one of the pioneering females in bluegrass music, but Alice Gerrard doesn’t enjoy performing alone.
“I have never considered myself primarily a singer/songwriter,” she says. “Mostly, I’ve worked and performed with other musicians: Alice & Hazel, The Harmony Sisters, Tom, Brad & Alice….”
She’s talking about Hazel Dickens, the influential folksinger who formed a harmony duo with Gerrard in the mid-‘60s. Gerrard went on to influence some of the biggest roots musicians of the 20th century, including Emmlyou Harris and Bob Dylan. She even joined the royal family of American folk music by marrying Mike Seeger. In her solo career, though, she’s always been more of an underground figure, sometimes waiting as long as ten years between her solo albums. Her latest, Bittersweet, doubles as her first record to feature all original material.
“Eight or ten years ago,” she remembers, “Laurie Lewis approached me at MerleFest about producing a solo recording of me and my songs. We talked for a bit and [agreed to] talk more when both of us had more time. Time passed. I’m not one to rush things; it’s usually been about 10 years in between solo albums. I was busy. Laurie was busy. Then, a couple of years ago, two other people approached me about producing a solo album, and I figured maybe this was my time, and I should get back in touch with Laurie since she had been ‘first in line,’ and I felt that she would be the right one to produce it. ‘I just want you to sing, to feature your voice and songs,’ she kept saying.”
The two booked some time in a studio, hired a group of backup musicians and got to work. The result is an album filled with all the essentials of old-school folk music: a cappella tunes, work songs, acoustic guitars, the occasional piano and a crooning, high-lonesome alto that’s grown more plaintive with age. The album was released last week, but you can stream the full disc below.