David Chase, with improvisations by Tessa Lark
1. I This Old Hammer
2. II Pretty Saro
3. III Down In A Coalmine
4. IV Who Will Come and Go With Me
Simple Gifts, Complex Harmonies
ESSENTIAL VOICES USA (EVUSA), under the baton of Judith Clurman, takes us back to what seems like a simpler time–no cellphones, televisions, streaming bombardments of information—in their latest release “Appalachian Stories,” on the Acis label. David Chase’ beautifully arranged suite of four songs features Tessa Clark on violin, displaying the craft that blends the Scots-Irish folk influence of early émigrés with wide open harmonic beauty that echoes the vistas of the verdant green mountains of the Appalachian chain. When you add Essential Voices USA to add human timbre, your heart strings will vibrate in time with a combination of pathos, love and the ache of a beauty that belongs to another world.
The Suite starts with “This Old Hammer,” the tale of John Henry vs. machine, and “Pretty Saro”, an English folk song, from the 1700s, that crossed the sea with those Scots-Irish workers to see a new life in a new world. “Down in a Coal Mine” combines “A Miner’s Life” and “Down in a Coalmine” to genius effect, with an initial cadenza where Clark sets the stage and then returns to blend with, then lead, EVUSA to poignant penultimance. “Who Will Come and Go with Me” is the final work in the suite, which starts slow, then hikes up a hoe-down, which is augmented by a vocal wall of sound that fractures into a glorious rainbow prism of harmony. This is where the old-country roots come to the fore–you can hear madrigals, gospel, vocal glory and, yes, an invitation. When we each need something to soothe the soreness of loss, a change in the entire world around us, this music will touch every facet of your heart. Take some time, load this into your favorite device, or your phone, and use headphones–you will want the intimacy of this gift in your ears alone.
SHERRI RASE, qonstage.com, July 2020