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Sara Grey - A Long Way from Home

A Long Way from Home
Fellside FECD196

Good news! A new CD from a singer I have long admired, on a label I have deep respect for. I can't wait to hear it. Five plays later and I know I was right: this is a superb record.

Maturity has strengthened, but not spoiled, Sara's naturally sweet-toned voice, and she uses it without a trace of affectation, happy to let each song stand on its own merits. Her banjo backings do the same, setting up a gentle wave for the song to float on with never a superfluous note. Furthermore the work of Kieron Means and Ben Paley on guitar, fiddle and vocals, plus Fellside's in-house harmonist Linda Adams, keeps up the same standard. As usual with a Sara Grey album the song choice is excellent. Great ballads such as Barbara Allen, The Derry Dems of Arrow (sic), in unusual versions, rub shoulders with comical items like The Prodigal Son and Five Nights Drunk, each one sung in a way that brings out the story to the full. Dramatic contrast comes with Jean Ritchie's Black Water rightly described as "one of the strongest protest songs of the past 45 years", echoed in starkness by the late J.B.Lenoir's Down in Mississippi. Another surprise is the Hank William's classic I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, sung with a melancholy tenderness miles away from Williams' anguished delivery, but no less effective.

Sara's Old Smokey is not the 1950's Weavers hit later parodied by Shel Silverstein, but a knockout mountain song from the singing of the unique Roscoe Holcomb. Special mention has to go to Stephen Foster's achingly sad Nellie Was a Lady a song to wring tears from a statue, beautifully sung by Sara with Kieron in chorus support. Yes indeed, Beautifully Sung!

I had the joyful experience of attending a Sara Grey live gig recently. I came away even more convinced that she belongs in the company of those greats of tradition she so admires. Lily May Ledford would love her style, and the ballad singers of Sodom Laurel would find her a place at the table. To hear her play and sing, to observe that body language, tapping foot, and smiling face, is to know an artist totally at one with her music. Listening to this album brings it all back, so here goes another spin. Sing On Sara!

Roy Harris

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This album was reviewed in Issue 66 of The Living Tradition magazine.