I have warm, if somewhat faded, memories of my first wading into the pool of folk music in the mid 1970s; American ballads, their Scottish cousins, and of course the fiddle music: gradually learning to hear the differences between the Scottish, Irish, Cape Breton, French Canadian, and New England styles. And of course the “contemporary” songs – those attributed to a living composer. The pool became an ocean, and it comes pleasantly washing back over me now when I listen to the debut recording from Annalivia.
Titled, simply Annalivia, this album has a bit of everything, from the opening southern ballad “A Sailor Being Tired”, followed by a stately medley of newly composed fiddle tunes: Goon Castle and The Groton Session Jig, contemporary songs composed by Richard Thompson and Mark Simos, a powerful “Cape Breton Set”, and so on – a wonderful variety of styles and genres reflecting influences which include Pentangle, The Bothy Band, Anne Briggs, Fairport Convention, Altan, Jimmy Page, XTC, Steeleye Span, Bill Monroe, Jean Ritchie, Alison Krauss and Union Station, and Emmylou Harris. From such fertile ground Annalivia has build a sound that stands on its own for originality, on a foundation of stellar musicianship.
The band is largely local to the Monadnock Region, with guitarist Flynn Cohen and singer/pianist Liz Simmons currently residing in Peterborough, and fiddler Brendan Carey Block being born and raised in Antrim. Bassist and banjo player Stuart Kenney hails from the Pioneer Valley, but he has been a mainstay for contra dancing throughout New England for many years. Each of these musicians has made a name for themselves either solo or in other configurations; they are not strangers to the New England folk music scene.
Liz is the primary vocalist for the band. Her voice is exquisite – pleasingly timid, in a “come-hither” sort of way. Flynn Cohen can break out the pyrotechnics when he wants to, but most of what we hear on this album is solid backup, with the innovative chord voicing that is characteristic of the Celtic players. He can also sing quite nicely, as he does in “Lazy John”, a song of bluegrass origin. Brendan Carey Block was the 2000 – 2001 US National Junior Scottish Fiddle Champion, and he has built out from the Celtic platform with jazz and rock explorations. His playing on this album stays fairly close to traditional styles, providing eloquent backup on the songs, and rendering the tunes with the kind of vigor that defines Cape Breton music. Stuart Kenney on bass and five-string banjo is a solid as they come, inconspicuous yet essential. The resulting combination is truly a band: each of these musicians has the capability of showing off a lot more than they do here; instead they have chosen to demonstrate the power of teamwork. Listen to the precision of “The Holly Bush Reels” – this is a band that really knows how to be a band.
We want more, of course, and it comes to mind how much fun an Annalivia concert must be – both for them, and for the audience. Fate provides: they will be performing a concert at the Unitarian Church in Peterborough on July 31, at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the door, and in advance at the Toadstool in Peterborough. They also have several other concerts over the summer and fall in Massachusetts and Vermont – details on their MySpace page.
Sampler: The Wind is An Angry Friend, Lazy John, Cape Breton Set