Friday, May 23, 2014

Fresh Breath of Bluegrass: Rebecca Frazier

We started the summer concert season with bit of history. The venue was a Naval Hospital on Capitol Hill built during the Civil War (and now restored as a community arts  facility called The Hill Center). The performer was a southern belle from Richmond who had just arrived from the bluegrass festival at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and the result was an exhilarating afternoon of roots and bluegrass music.

Rebecca Frazier is back on the road to support a CD released last year, When We Fall, which marked a return to performing after a break for child rearing and a personal tragedy, the loss of a son.  While that dark period inspired many of the  new songs including the title track, there is nothing mournful about her live show.

Frazier’s band, Hit & Run Bluegrass had been a fixture on the summer festival circuit, winning awards and fans, and earning her the distinction of being the first woman featured on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine. The current version of Hit & Run dresses like bank tellers but is as tight a bluegrass band as you can find. This is despite the addition of a mandolin player (Jared Walker) who graduated from college a week ago and fiddle player Christian Porter. Bass player Royal Masat and banjo player Kyle Tuttle were with the original band along with John Frazier, her husband, who is now off touring with his own group.

They could bring it with gusto on traditional songs, like “Mule Skinner Blues” or Rebecca’s hot rag, “40 Blues” and they handed the solos back and forth seamlessly. If there was a fault to be found, she often subsumed rather showcased her guitar work.

She can’t hide her song writing gifts behind the band, however, and her lyrics can move from thought provoking to haunting.

In my time I ain’t seen much
Try to walk soft but my feet still touch
God gave gravity to keep me down
Put an apple on the tree to turn my head around

Can you look past your sins
Can you win back your friends
Mirror, mirror on the wall, does it break when we fall

Her poignant ballads about loss and moving on (“I won’t darken your doorway any longer”) were leavened with up beat tunes that would have made Doc Watson and Earl and Bill take notice. Her publicity photos convey a mysterious, almost ghostly look. In person, she was more the friendly girl next door, looking for some folks to jam with.