The death of Jean Ritchie at age 92 this past June signified the sad loss of one of the most vital and beloved of American folk artists. Ritchie, whose family were visited by Cecil Sharp in his song-collecting travels across the States in 1917, and whose 1962 album Jean Ritchie Singing Traditional Songs of Her Kentucky Mountain Family was the first folk LP to be issued by Elektra Records, epitomizes Appalachian authenticity for many.
Few contemporary groups have been more vocal about Ritchie’s importance and influence than Susie Glaze and the HiLonesome Band. Tennessee native Glaze has featured on several tribute projects dedicated to Ritchie; in addition, not only did the group’s last album, 2013’s splendid White Swan, sign off with a cover of Ritchie’s “The Soldier”, but the record also came complete with a complimentary quote from “The Mother of Folk” herself: “With people like this to trust, my music will go on living, and soaring. And so will I.”
Ritchie’s spirit is indeed kept soaring on Glaze and co.’s new album, their fourth studio release. Not That Kind of Girl (and it seems doubtful that a Lena Dunham homage is intended in this title) sees the band continuing to develop and hone the synthesis of bluegrass, Celtic and other folk traditions in a way that would doubtless continue to win their mentor’s approbation. What sets this quintet apart from more staunch and staid traditionalists, however, is their choice of material, which mixes original songs penned primarily by the group’s lead guitarist Rob Carlson with some often surprising contemporary covers. In fact, Not That Kind of Girl features only one traditional track: a spare and haunting take on “Dens of Yarrow”, built around Mark Indicator’s fiddle, Skip Edwards’ accordion and Glaze’s shimmering, Judy Collins-channelling vocal.
The consistency of the group’s interplay is such that the album flows seamlessly, with much of the new material sounding at once time-honed and fresh. The instrumental opener “Independence” is as clear and bracing as a stream. The title track is a charming affirmation of faithfulness on which brisk picking of fiddle, bass and guitar is perfectly complemented by Glaze’s perky vocal. “Heartland”, from Belfast singer-songwriter Denise Hagan, is stunningly beautiful, with mournful fiddle and Glaze’s moving vocal digging deeply into the song’s sentiments of homesickness and longing.
Bouzouki and mandolin player Steve Rankin gleefully takes the lead on a taut cover of David Olney’s unrepentant-criminal narrative, “Millionaire”, and also contributes a hilarious spoken word part to “Don’t Resist Me”, a wry stalker’s anthem (written by Carlson) that finds Glaze’s singing at its wittiest. And Chris Hillman joins the party on “Prisoner in Disguise”, contributing mandolin to a heartfelt and wistful rendering of the JD Souther song made famous by Linda Ronstadt.
Two of the stand-out tracks on White Swan, the murder ballad “Evangeline” and the sublime family reminiscence “Harlan County Boys”, came from the pen of Kerrville New Folk award-winning songwriter Ernest Troost, and Glaze and co return to Troost’s writing for one track here. In this case, it’s a lithe and lovely reading of “The Last to Leave” (drawn from Troost’s 2014 release O Love) that turns the track into a gorgeous parlour waltz. Taking its title from a Harriet Beecher Stowe quotation (“Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn”), the closing track, “Never Give Up”, is defiant, dynamic bluegrass infused with a hint of gospel (and a nod to Pete Seeger) in the harmonies, epitomizing the generous spirit of this timeless and hugely appealing album.