Evening Prayer Blues31 August 2012
Anger, Phelps & Gilchrist Up Close
Fiddler Darol Anger and singer-songwriter Emy Phelps have been playing a bunch of shows on both coasts over the past six months. These performances have featured an assortment of talented friends, but one of Anger and Phelps’ more constant fellow-travelers has been the mandolinist Sharon Gilchrist. Anger, Gilchrist and Phelps played an entirely acoustic house concert in Boston last April— no amplification whatsoever. As the sun set on a gentle spring day, the trio offered up this rendition of the haunting instrumental, “Evening Prayer Blues:”
As Anger noted in introducing this piece, “Evening Prayer Blues” started out life as a signature tune of harmonica virtuoso DeFord Bailey. Bailey, who has the distinction of being the first African-American member of the Grand Ole Opry, has resurfaced in the vast, bubbling cauldron of folk culture of late. Some months back, we shared a clip of Tony Trischka, another string innovator in the Anger vein, playing a “foxchase” that he had penned after listening to a recording of Bailey playing a similar tune.
But Bailey’s influence on folks in bluegrass and traditional string music is by no means a recent phenomenon. At some point Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass and fellow Opry member, picked up “Evening Prayer Blues,” and he recorded it late in his career. Bailey’s original sounded rather like a field holler translated to the harmonica. In Monroe’s hands, however, the piece was refashioned into one of those spooky fiddle tunes that marked his last years. Anger mentioned learning a variant of Monroe’s version from guitar ace David Grier. If you want to create a neat chain of influence from Bailey to Anger, it’s worth remembering that Grier’s dad was a Bluegrass Boy, touring with Monroe back in the 1960’s.
In their version, Anger, Phelps and Gilchrist let the fiddle and mandolin engage in a dialogue. Anger is of course one of the guiding lights in contemporary fiddling, while Gilchrist has built an impressive resumé in recent years by playing with bluegrass greats like Tony Rice and Peter Rowan. As they navigate their way through this tune, both Anger and Gilchrist acknowledge its antecedents while also bringing to it a deft and stylish touch that is their own.
Obviously, Anger, Phelps and Gilchrist deserve most of the credit for the spell cast by their version of “Evening Prayer Blues,” but the location doesn’t hurt. This concert took place in the intimate confines of the colonial-era Loring-Greenough House in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. It was part of notloB Music, an ongoing series organized by Jeff Boudreau. I love house concerts, and the Loring-Greenough House is a particularly inviting space. Sitting in such proximity to great musicians as they perform always gives me a profound case of the Warm and Fuzzies. As I offer up my own evening prayer of thanks for being allowed to commune so closely with the muses, I’m also reminded that, for tens of thousands of years, this was the only way that music was consumed. No wonder it feels so right. Boudreau recently announced the line-up for the fall notloB series. If you are in the Boston area, you should check it out.
Look Up, Look Down
Phelp and Anger’s tour coincides with the release of their new CD project, Look Up, Look Down. The album is a collection of Phelps’ compositions that Anger produced. We’ll be exploring a lot more stuff from the Anger, Phelps and Gilchrist show in the coming weeks. Along the way, we’ll be able dig into some of that new material. Stay tuned…
Yer Pal— Curly
P.S. Big thanks to Paul Villanova (camera) and Lauren Scully (camera) for their help with this series of videos.