Never mind that she was my college roommate. Never mind that I adore her and that I am an extremely loyal person. Nevermind that this type of music happens to be right up my alley. The new pre-released cd, Old Light: Songs from My Childhood and Other Gone Worlds, by Rayna Gellert is a work of musical art that is well worth your time and attention. So listen up!
Rayna has been playing, performing and recording old-time and old-time related music for at least the better part of 2 decades. Starting with her childhood (her dad is traditional fiddle and Banjo player Dan Gellert), and continuing through college and beyond, Rayna has performed in a variety of venues- from Warren Wilson contra dances, to touring with the Rhythm in Shoes dance company, to playing with the Freight Hoppers, to singing and fiddling with bad-ass girl band Uncle Earl, to guest fiddling with Toubab Krewe- and more. Rayna has filled the need in many-a-situation as a fiddler/ guitarist/ vocalist who is classically trained and old-time raised and thoroughly studied and practiced in tradition.
After about 20 years, Rayna has ventured out into a new realm: Old Light: Songs from my Childhood and Other Gone Worlds, is her debut as a songwriter and artist of her complete own accord and right. Consisting of about half original and half traditional songs, this album is completely original. Arrangements are fresh, thoughtful and spot-on. It struck me both during the live performance at the pre-cd release show and listening to the album that each note, each intonation, each pause in this music is complete with intention and integrety. It seems to me that Rayna is presenting this music with complete respect; since the work is a marriage of tradtional music and candid originals, listening is like bearing witness to a beautiful balance being found between respecting tradition and making one's own mark.
The content of the album focuses heavily on memory, and thus to me has an overall thoughtful and slightful melancholic demeanor. Let me be clear- not every song is about memory, and not every song is sad. However, even with the most upbeat of traditional songs, we are still struck with the sense of the passing of time and the ways our world is drastically different than it was when the song was first sung. Some of the original songs definitely explore the dark side of memory. Several songs dip into the realm of memory loss, inspired by a "creative conversation" between Rayna and author David MacLean, who has completed the memoir The Answer to the Riddle is Me about his experience with amnesia. And there are two extremely creepy traditional murder ballads, one of which has haunted Rayna since childhood. (When I say creepy, I am talking very dark, very creepy and very haunting.)
The instrumentation on Old Light is fantastic- it is a perfect selection of musical sounds, and each musician is doing just the right amount. From the banjo paired with the trumpet, and the BUMPIN DRUM SOUNDS on "Nothing," to the hair-raising guitar off-notes on "The Fatal Flower Garden" and the subtle and appropriate usage of an organ on several tracks, Rayna demonstrates her keen selectress skills.
And the voice. You just have to hear it. Rayna has a voice that is timeless, ageless and starkly beautiful. Her voice presents each song as an honest expression of the depth of human experience. Calmy, openly, beautifully. Like I said, you just have to hear it.
My favorite song on the album is probably the opening track, "Nothing," but honestly, I find myself singing most all of them quietly as I go through my days this season. Old Light is my soundtrack for this autumn- the season of remembering.
(ps- You can supposedly listen to a song from this album by "liking" it on Facebook. I don't know anything about "liking" something on Facebook, but here's the link: Like it! It should be worth the effort.)