Roots Vibes

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Words and pic Maurice Hope

Old-time traditional fare learnt either through searching through music’s archives or from friends, the young American act Anna & Elizabeth certainly brought something different & warm to the Cluny2 and Jumpin’ Hot Club on a cold early winter’s evening.

With Elizabeth performing on banjo, guitar and fiddle to go with vocals and Anna (who learnt some of her work from Ginny Hawker) digging deep on both lead and harmony vocals and banjo, and operating what for many folks was a ‘first experience’ of seeing a Crankie in operation.

What is a Crankie you may ask? Well, it is a hand-operated contraption that loaded with a picture roll, serves as a movie screen. The highlight of the evening was when all lights were turned off, and it was seen in all its glory. Magical.

With the paper screen illuminated, the story of childhood friend “Miss Lella” was sampled, in both spoken word and pictures. Anna carefully wound on the roll as Elizabeth played fiddle and both spoke of the old lady’s life and a bygone era. You could not fail but be intrigued, and impressed by the duo’s ingenuity and the captivating fashion they led the audience through the songs.

Talk about a surreal experience, this one certainly fits the bill. Looking like they had either come from the prairie or wheat fields of Kansas without bothering to change clothes, the girls charmed the audience with a studied entertaining set.

From opening piece “Goin’ Across The Mountain” on through the likes of the above noted, “Miss Lella” and old favourites among followers of the traditional mountain music “Don’t Let Me Die In The Storm” and “John Of Hazelgreen” (like a good many songs of the idiom it is known to some under another title) this really was first class entertainment. Such was the continuous interchange of instruments and vocal permutation the audience never knew what to expect next, other than it was set to be good.

Anna & Elizabeth’s thirst to ensure the old songs of West Virginia, North Carolina and Appalachian mountains and of small communities isn’t lost won a place in my heart. The image of Elizabeth bobbing up and down as she played her acoustic guitar and the girls harmonising, and of course the star of the gig, the Crankie will remain with me for a long long time. May my wait to see them again be short. For their encore, they walked among the audience to perform. At which point, Elizabeth rushed off to their car for the merchandise people demanded.

Opening the evening was local act, Rhoda Dalling. A huge talent in the making, she played exquisite fiddle and claw-hammer banjo in enthralling fashion. Streamlined into old scratchy North Carolina fiddle tunes and Appalachia based-tunes in general her efforts dovetailed nicely. Rhona Dalling’s finest included a version of Cahalen Morrison and Eli West’s “My Bloody Heart”, and with her speaking highly of the duo and Morrison’s latest venture, Western Centuries there’s no doubting the young lady has excellent taste.