Friday, April 26, 2013

Old Light: Songs from my Childhood & Other Gone Worlds - Rayna Gellert




The influence of memory on songs old and new

Old Light: Songs from my Childhood & Other Gone Worlds
Artist: Rayna Gellert (www.raynagellert.com)
Label: StorySound Records
Length: 41:01 minutes

When it comes to murder ballads, I am traversing unfamiliar territory. Sad songs are a different matter. Songs like “Eleanor Rigby” have always resonated. Old Light contains a little of both, which is a reflection of Rayna Gellert’s childhood.

But this is more than just five traditional songs made new. There are five original songs, which touch on the theme of memory.

“The Platform,” caught my attention as I thought of it in terms of someone describing what it feels like to experience Alzheimer’s and/or dementia. The first person account makes it unique: “My writings in the margins/Of all these books that I’ve read/How could all those ideas just fall out of my head.” Original songs like this one have a poetic imagery that is more accessible to me than the traditional ones.

Even so, the craftsmanship on all the songs is a thing of beauty. The gorgeous instrumentation, including the occasional melancholy pedal steel, and the picking of stringed instruments, led by Nathan Salsburg, give this a rustic and rural feel that is ever so welcome.

Salsburg also serves with Gellert as an arranger on every track. This is a wonderful collaboration.

Listening to this CD reminded me of George Harrison’s fondness for The Band. It had something to do with the timeless quality and the organic sound of their songs. Their songs sounded old. Old Light feels even more stripped-down and authentic. The new songs sound old, and the old songs have a newness. Each one is expertly performed. A couple of murder ballads are appropriately ominous.

As faulty as memory may be, I have it on good authority that Gellert is a past performer with Uncle Earl. She is an established fiddle player, but here she makes modest use of that talent, choosing to let the arrangements dictate the instruments.

Her background includes gospel songs, and though this includes a few spiritual references, it would be a treat to hear this group of musicians work their magic on some old hymns.

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