Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard – Hazel and Alice
Released in 1976 and available for the first time on compact disc, Hazel and Alice is an old-time country music album that ranges from blues to hymns to a capella ballads and has influenced artists from Emmylou Harris to Bob Dylan to the Judds. Hazel and Alice originally were a bluegrass duo, but by 1973, when this album was recorded, the pair had rid themselves of the sensational instrumental flourishes that typify the genre in favor of a more direct lyrical approach.
The album includes numbers by the Blue Sky Boys, the Carter Family and Wilma Lee Cooper, as well as primitive Baptist hymnals that have influenced Ralph Stanleys oeuvre and original compositions. The strength of these performances lies in the plaintive, hard edge of the duos vocals, which blend the harmonies of the Carter Family with the defiant punch of Loretta Lynn.
Hazel and Alice embrace by the women’s movement in the 70s, a factor that helped catapult them past the festival and college circuits, and the reasons for it are clear in the albums original compositions. No protest songs here; rather, we get stories Custom Made Woman Blues, My Better Years, and the great Don’t Put Her Down, which seeks to deflect misplaced criticisms with compassion: Well theres more to her than powder and paint / Than her peroxide bleached out hair / Well if she acts that way its cause you had your day / Dont put her down, you helped put her there.
This sense of humor cut with bitter reality enlivens the entire album. It is an awareness crossed with longing, whether for the hills of West Virginia, a mothers smile, the better years or a better life. Longing here has not only memory to sustain it; in the evocative sounds of Hazel and Alice, consolation is forever within your reach.