Laurie Lewis 2024
Photo: Irene Young / Dreamspider Publicity

Laurie Lewis Knows We Are Just a Blink Compared to ‘Trees’

Folk singer-songwriter Laurie Lewis reminds us to be kind to each other and appreciate the good things in life, like trees and the natural world—and John Prine.

Laurie Lewis
Spruce and Maple
31 May 2024

Singer-songwriter Laurie Lewis is often mistaken for a purist folkie because of her skill on the acoustic fiddle. She has put out a slew of wonderful records over the past 40-plus years on labels such as Flying Fish, Rounder, and HighTone, which are known for their crystal-clear productions and her flawless playing. But as with other prodigies, to pigeonhole Lewis as just one type of performer limits one’s appreciation of their genius.

For example, the title track on Lewis’ latest release is entirely a capella (sung by Lewis as a quartet with Hasee Ciaccio, George Guthrie, and Tom Rozum). The sound of just voices ironically fits the song’s topic, “Trees”, arboreal lifeforms whose lifespans can dwarf human achievements. The unaccompanied vocals paradoxically convey the temporal existence of people on the planet. From a cosmic perspective, trees and all of nature will outlast people on Earth.

Of course, one can still sing without instrumental accompaniment and still be considered folk, but this album has much more of a country feel. Songs such as “The Day Is Mine” and “Just a Little Ways Down the Road” swing a bit too much to sound traditional. Lewis does play a mean fiddle, in the best sense of the word. She keeps picking and does not stop on these songs and others unless it’s for another band member to kick up the action.

However, Laurie Lewis’ vocals are often underrated. She can turn a love song into a weeper, such as in her tribute to John Prine, “Why’d You Have to Break My Heart?” or cry along with her bow, as in “The Banks Are Covered in Blue”. The more upbeat cuts, such as her covers of Tom T. Hall’s “Hound Dog Blues” and John Hartford’s “Down on the Levee”, suggest she has joyfully sung along to these songs many times. She bends the notes to sound half-drunk with happiness as needed. Her fiddle playing in the background keeps things lively.

Unfortunately, this good-time vibe hasn’t been as true for Lewis lately. She reportedly lost her singing voice for more than six months recently, and her long-time musical partner, mandolinist Tom Rozum, developed Parkinson’s Disease. He sings on three cuts on Trees and created the artwork for the album’s cover.

Presumably, that’s why the covers are the most buoyant tracks on the record, which contains seven Laurie Lewis compositions and five by others. The songwriter can get heavy, especially songs such as the heartfelt “Enough” and on the closing cut, the dirge-like “Rock the Pain Away”. The latter song mimics the album’s function. Rocking one’s pain away is just a metaphor for music (re: rocking) as a method for consoling one another’s hurt. While the album ends on a sad note, the message is clear. Lewis wants the listener to feel reassured that one is not alone. Distress is the human condition. We all experience it at different times in our lives. The best one can do is find comfort in others. That’s what music is for.

In the meantime, our lives are just a blink in time. Lewis reminds us to be kind to each other and appreciate the good things in life, like trees and the natural world—and John Prine!

RATING 8 / 10