(Listen Here Records, CD)
Folk songstress Rebecca Hall and her musical partner Ken Anderson moved to southern Vermont from the Big Apple not too long ago. It was probably a good idea; their gorgeously anachronistic tunes seem a bit out of step with the bustling modernity of the big city. The Greenwich Village '60s scene would've been perfect for the duo, but these days the Green Mountains are a better fit. Hall and producer/arranger Anderson's latest disc, Sunday Afternoon, proves how lucky we are to have them.
Hall's songwriting style is, refreshingly, more European than Appalachian. While it's hard to dismiss phenomenal talents such as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, an increasing number of Dustbowl balladeers and mountain musicians are coming out of the woodwork lately. Tales of hardship and loss are universal folk-music themes, but Hall's British Isles-style melodicism truly sets her apart.
She doesn't so much ignore modern songcraft as transcend it. The haunting "Sculptor's Song" provides a great example of Hall's intuitive knowledge of folk history. A gifted lyricist, she displays a strong grasp of old-fashioned poetics. "You kept me spinning on your web, and that's where I longed to hang / When sweetly bound above the moon, I clutched at every strand," she sings in a heartbreaking hush. Anderson has a knack for crafting rich arrangements that don't clutter things up; cello, oboe, bass guitar and bells accompany Hall's frugal guitar playing.
The traditional tune "Rosemary Lane" is a more stripped-down affair. Accompanied by acoustic guitar and bass, Hall infuses the song with her beautiful, world-weary voice. She's a fine interpreter, capable of uncovering the spirit of even the dustiest compositions.
It's Hall's originals that really get under your skin, however. "Thanks Just the Same" is one of the most captivating songs I've heard in ages. "I called up the doctor, 'cause I thought you were ill / he said to burn all your records, they were haunting you still," she coos.
Delicately brooding and filled with muted passion, Sunday Morning showcases an accomplished singer-songwriter and an impeccable arranger/producer doing what comes naturally. The result is a durable testament to the power of a good song. Be sure to check them out at the Bee's Knees in Morrisville on May 4, and at Burlington's 1/2 Lounge on May 5.