Never Let Me Cross Your Mind, the new album from the Asheville, North Carolina-based Locust Honey String Band, blends traditional songs and fiddle tunes, with numbers gleaned from the Carter Family, George Jones and others, as well as compositions from the band’s fiddler and singer Chloe Edmonstone. Edmonstone, along with guitarist and singer Meredith Watson and new addition, banjoist Hilary Hawke, revel in a mixture of different genres and styles on the album – from string band music and fiddle/banjo tunes, to country duets, honky tonk, and mountain blues. The entire work is a product of their collective knowledge and lives steeped in music.
The album has been put together at Joel Savoy’s studio in Eunice, Louisiana, and Savoy has handled the recording, mixing and mastering of the work, self-produced by the band. The inclusion of Savoy has resulted in the album being marked by the sense of warmth and joy he brings to his own work, and the effect of this collaboration can be felt in the effort which has gone into getting inside the pieces, and drawing out the feelings they contain.
The feel and the intimacy of the album are immediately obvious on opener “When the Whiskey’s Gone” – the arrangement has roll, and punch, with the instruments and voices clear and bright. The band takes their music seriously, and is right to do so, but have fun throughout the progression of Never Let Me Cross Your Mind. “Righten That Wrong” is a fitting update of a Carter Family song made close but somehow wild at same time with fiddle, resonator guitar and banjo. Featuring Ariel Dixon on main vocals, the song is so perfect it is difficult to understand how anyone wouldn’t want to listen to this music.
The fiddle instrumentals (the traditional “Boogerman” and “Logan County Blues” included) have subtlety, drive and feel, with sawing fiddle dropping into traditional dance rhythms. Edmonstone also displays a lyrical, evocative style, such as on the amazingly beautiful roll of “I’ve Forgotten More Than You’ll Ever Know About Him”, with twin vocal lines intertwining as the song develops.
The album touches on more country territory with songs from the books of Kitty Wells and Billy Wallace (“Whose Shoulder Will You Cry On”) and George Jones (“Just One More”). Both are fine examples of the group’s ability to move their particular formula into other types of songs and styles. Their intuitive playing takes the feel of a song, maintains it, but at the same time morphing it into a Locust Honey String Band song. The results are warm, emotional and, at moments, heartbreaking.
“Henry Lee” sees the band continue to take traditional forms forward – in this case from English origins, through Nick Cave, to their own band, adding harmony vocals to a rolling, jaunty arrangement which manages to find pleasure even in a tale of murder. “McMichen’s Breakdown” is a particular highlight – it is amazing how well the band have captured the sound of a tune like this, with the production bringing every detail out into the open. The guitar and fiddle are obvious, but dig a little deeper for the banjo and bass as well.
Never Let Me Cross Your Mind shows the ways that the band bring tradition forward, to new listeners. Their playing, singing and song selection maintain and promote that which they hold dear – through the actual music and the band’s attitude to its performance and delivery. “Four Cent Cotton” allows their skills to shine through, whilst closer “Columbus Stockade Blues” kicks off with a resonator solo, before Meredith Watson takes on an emotional and intense lead vocal. The simple lead into the bridge is a perfect distillation of the heights that Never Let Me Cross Your Mind reaches.