Although this is Red Tail Ring‘s fourth album, Michigan duo Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo are only really now starting to create a wider awareness for their take on traditional American folk and bluegrass with its spare instrumentation in the service of both self-penned and traditional songs. Given he has a degree in Ethnomusicology and she studied traditional Finnish music at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, they certainly have the grounding to explore the genre, and do so in a manner that is warm and alive rather than academic.
Premo’s wistful title track opens with album, fiddle and banjo weaving the melody before the first of four trad/arr numbers, the Sacred Harp hymn Wondrous Love/Lay Aside Your Crown played on clawhammer banjo with Premo providing both additional lyrics and the instrumental break. Come All Ye Fair & Tender Ladies has been covered so often, it’s difficult to bring a fresh perspective, but while they may not reinvent its wheel they still take it for a commendably world-wearily sad spin. They show their instrumental skills to good effect on Camp Meeting on the 4th of July/May Day, a splicing of the 19th century march tune with Premo’s frisky fiddle instrumental. This is followed by the fourth old timer, banjo taking prominence and Premo double-tracking her vocals on Yarrow, not, in fact, the Scottish borders ballad sometimes known as The Dowie Dens O Yarrow, but rather an abridged setting of Child 215, an anonymous British poem from around 1760 actually titled Rare Willie Drowned In Yarrow.
Not traditional as such, there’s also two blues covers. I’d Rather Be The Devil is a Skip James number with additional autobiographical lyrics by Premo who accompanies her falsetto vocal on fiddle. Featuring gourd banjo, Gibson Town takes the Muddy Water melody for the setting on new lyrics by the duo relating to the mass shooting in their hometown of Kalamazoo in February this year. It’s one of only three numbers on which the dry-voiced Beauchcamp sings lead, the others being his own moody acoustic folk blues compositions For The Love of the City and the A Ghost Whispers.
As well as the title track, he also duets with Premo on the sparse bluegrass broken relationship song of memory and loss Visiting, the album rounded out in solid form by the Celtic infused fiddle led The New Homeplace and Shale Town, her banjo-based protest against fracking. Clocking in at just under an hour, it’s a welcome addition to the continuing revival of American traditional music that has both a faithful adherence to the past and a sensibility of contemporary issues.
Fall Away Blues is Out Now