Decades ago when rock music was dominating the airwaves there was an artist named Lee Michaels who decided by his third album to disregard guitars as a lead instrument and record an all keyboard and drums album.
Of course, Michaels was an insanely great keyboard player and vocalist. He switched between piano, harpsichord and Hammond Organ (hooked up to enough Leslie cabinets to lift a jet plane). Then, he added 300 lb plus drummer-extraordinaire — from the school of Gene Krupa — Bartholomew “Frosty” Smith to complete the aggregation.
This match up produced quite a challenging listen. Fiery live shows and adding Lee Michaels’ trade mark vocal high notes was intense. Michaels’ was in that Robert Plant-Roger Daltry realm when he sang.
My point? Well, all these years later it seems violin virtuoso Anne Lindsay has chosen to release an equally compelling stripped down album of Roots-Americana-Folk with classical overtones solely imbedded in the soul of her violin and accompanied at times by Amy Laing’s cello. No drums, no guitars, no keyboards except for an occasional piano, and nyckelharpa provided by Ms. Lindsay.
At first I was puzzled about how all this was going to play out. Risky? I would think so. But what do I know? I’m just a former drummer, songwriter, PR writer and violins? As a solo instrument with an occasional vocal – no brass, no trumpets, no trombones, no accordions? How can this work?
But, first a little rock credentials back story: Anne Lindsay has an impressive resume — having performed with Canadian legends Blue Rodeo — she ignited her performance live in Ottawa, February 2010 — by playing as if Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson taught her how to use the stage with her body and instrument becoming one.
Prancing, stalking, dancing, jumping, laughing, dueling with the others on their instruments….it made for a superlative Blue Rodeo performance. For convenience, I have included it here as a reference — to substantiate this woman’s place in performance art.
I’m surprised they didn’t come out with fire extinguishers after the song. She owned the stage and this is a musician clearly “getting into it” with the audience benefitting from a marvelous performance. Fiery, exciting and commanding.
Anne was also a session performer recording with the likes of: Led Zeppelin, Roger Daltry, James Taylor and The Chieftains. Not too shabby.
Now let’s get back to –“Soloworks.” This new album unfolds with bits and pieces of interesting passages that even include the kind of eccentric violin noodling usually found on albums by performance artist Laurie Anderson. But, Anne is not going for the weird, eccentric, spaced out approach. Instead, there is an ability here to pull varied sounds out of the air from just spare instruments. Do you have to like the violin’s sound? Yes, you do. But, Anne Lindsay – who has been releasing albums since 2001 — has already done all her practicing so it’s not a painful introduction.
There is melody here, exploration in sound, shallow percussion and quite an invigorating showcase. Sometimes, between the violin and cello it sounds like a wall of violins, fiddles, and any other Medieval-type stringed instrument. But, the music is now anchored in traditional ancient motifs. It’s decorated in them – but, the presentation is quite modern. Music such as this was explored a few years ago by rocker Elvis Costello when he joined briefly with The Brodsky Quartet and released “The Juliet Letters.” If Anne is following in those footsteps she has some excellent momentum already.
What Anne has done in some respects is presented the violin in a classical-Roots configuration akin to the first time you hear jazz. A lead instrument – and yes, there are definitive notes being played but the cello on “Tour en’L’Air,” sounds like one of the best cello jam sessions I ever heard. That’s right, jam sessions. It’s crystalline, it has cadences and notes that easily ignite the senses. Anne obviously has allowed room for Amy Laing to stretch her bow the way jazz sax and trumpet players blow.
Then, as easily as the classical jam ends – Anne’s violin punctuates the air with a fiddle-type sound and she sings – “you really got a hold on me.” What? You heard me right.
She cleverly marries the classical strains of her strings to a soulful Smokey Robinson and the Miracles melody. Is this some music lesson? Taking a 60’s soul song and actually re-shaping, re-inventing and showing just how pliable music can be in the hands of a professional who has grit. Probably. King Curtis did it when he tackled Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” years ago on saxophone. The old classical melody that became a rock song and then morphed into a jazz song. Isn’t music wonderful?
“The Dusting Rag,” opens with voices from the Majengo Children’s Home in Tanzania. Already we have explored folk-roots with the opening tune “Seas Will Rise,” — sampled below — and went classical with a few instrumentals. Then we classically jammed with a cellist Amy Laing who left her cello smoking after that tune. Then, we heard a classical adaptation of a soul song. Then children singing in a complete turnaround. If nothing else, the album has presented diversity with its ingenius use of spare instrumentation.
“The Cold Told a Tale,” returns to a roots-folk vocal, brilliant piano to refresh the listening ears – then plucking of the violin strings to accompany the wonderful lyric narrated by Anne Lindsay. This is probably the most accessible song to ears not accustom to this kind of music. This tune has an underlying energy, and it’s constructed with some perfect early Laurie Anderson type layers. The Laurie Anderson of the days of “Sharkey’s Day,” (from her “Mister Heartbreak” collection) when Laurie’s artistic strangeness was framed in wonderfully threaded melodies and sounds.
“Dogs In the Hollow,” starts on the violin with a “guitar-like” intro – and then, the true fiddle-violin sound enriches the song and it sounds like more than violin playing. At no time is Anne Lindsay’s violin grating. She is so in tune with the notes she must play and weave together – and this simply is the result of years playing, practicing, and perfecting.
Anne sounds as if she could play with The Goose Creek Symphony one night, Caravan (along with multi-instrumentalist and violinist Geoffrey Richardson — LP “For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night”) and move over to the Boston Pops Orchestra the next. On this song, the arrangement is playful, the sounds varied and interesting.
Anne has that same thrilling, razor sharp full-throttle violin sound emanating from her strings that rock violinist Patty Van Ness so brilliantly applied to Private Lightning’s “When You’re Laughing,” released in 1980 and available on YouTube.
It’s easy to mention superlative fiddle players in the same breath as Anne Lindsay — fiddlers who played as if they were possessed: Doug Kershaw, Richard Greene (Seatrain) and not forgetting Charlie Daniels who had the ultimate fiddle hit on “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” However, Anne Lindsay seems to be alone in the ability to merge this type of exciting fiddle playing with it’s unlikely cousin — classical violin and that’s where the comparisons end. These are all legendary fiddlers — and to see Anne on stage with any one of them would be a performance I would love to see.
“The Spy Czar / Jokijenkka” – has a more traditional gypsy sound – a style used effectively by Papa John Creach when he briefly played with the Jefferson Starship and Hot Tuna. A blend of old world reel and late 1800’s barnstorming. The song starts out at a healthy clip but then when she begins to play the second part – the melody picks up dramatically.
While this music is an acquired taste, there is lots to discover here. The tracks are well-paced and though there are just a few instruments featured, they too, are presented in a manner to sound totally new each time out. “The Three Bears,” is another cello-inspired melody but totally different than “Tour en L’Air.” This has a little echo, space on it. It resounds nicely as if it were being played in Carnegie Hall when the place is closed and empty. I believe the album was indeed recorded in a church atmosphere.
Notes float up and high – drift away and stay suspended in the melody. Notes, like a lead guitar, sustain nicely. The interplay is like jazz – snaking around each other playfully, igniting, tagging and then running away.
“Sing Hallelujah,” is Anne’s warmest vocal. Could even be a children’s lullaby. With the domination of the violin in the song it would help if Anne had some choral accentuating her vocals. Some added support, some additional strength. The human voices would not interfere with the rustic violin and poignant Anne Lindsay vocal. They would simply drizzle spiritual emotions throughout the song for added affect.
From what I’ve learned from a world music expert article by Megan Romer* — there is no technical difference between a violin or a fiddle. Itzhak Perlman has often referred to his instrument as both a fiddle and a violin. But, I guess if you’re playing a classical concert a violin sounds more sophisticated.
If you’re playing some bluegrass, a fiddle is more appropriate. While most fiddles/violins have four strings there are five string fiddles. Classical violinists often tune their instruments in perfect fifths GDAE. There are varied skills required that are different for each musician depending on what music and instrument they are playing. There are many little set-up differences between the instruments but, essentially they are the same. All of this obviously understood by Anne Lindsay since she segues between classical and folk-traditional easily and seamlessly.
Church bells ring out on the final track – the classic and powerful “Amazing Grace,” which begins on piano. Arranged by Anne Lindsay, it poignantly captures the lyric in Anne’s soothing and comforting vocal. No superficial diva showboating – just a beautiful rendition on the same plain as Cat Stevens’ cover of the classic “Morning Has Broken.”
It’s not overly religious, but it is spiritual. It has been and always will be an uplifting melody of optimism and this was quite a good selection to close out a stirring solo works. The song ends on a piano note and is answered by church bells. Makes one stop what they’re doing and listen….
“Soloworks” was produced by Anne Lindsay and released through Violindsay Music. The CD package was designed as a 4 panel fold out. The design and layout by Richard Boudreau.
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Photography by Kevin Kelly.
* Megan Romer article website: http://worldmusic.about.com/od/instrumentation/f/Whats-The-Difference-Between-A-Fiddle-And-A-Violin.htm
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / June 2015