Archive for the ‘Elizabeth LaPrelle’ Category

Greenwood Sidey

March 23, 2015

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excerpt from interview of Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle by Mason Adams (

Elizabeth:  The Greenwood Sidey is in the Child Ballads collection, from the big book of versions from England and Scotland published in the 19th century. In that book, which is sort of canonical, it’s known as “The Cruel Mother.” It’s very dark, one of the darkest songs that I know.

It’s obviously one of the more difficult-to-contemplate crimes, even today. I think the refrain is really poignant and illuminating, that’s she’s all alone and lonely in this situation. You know, there’s no one else: the father of these kids is not even mentioned.

It’s really kind of spooky imagining a woman who has just given birth to two new people, but she’s still alone and is making sure she’s going to remain that way, and I think she’s really haunted by that decision. Even when she gets to talk to those people, they’re imaginary. They’re ghosts, they’re not quite there, so she’s alone throughout.
Anna: It’s a horror story, but in some ways it can feel like a very feminist story. I remember I was learning that song and then watched this movie about the Magdalene Laundries, where people who had babies out of wedlock were shunned by their families and sent to be almost captives in these nunneries.

It went on until the 70s in Ireland. It made sense to me, that there was some sort of weird strength in this cruel mother character. She would escape society because there’s so much shame on her being pregnant out of wedlock. Somehow the forces outside the forest lead her into the forest to do this awful deed.

That’s really intriguing. I don’t know if I totally agree with that reading, but it is one interpretation. Another reading is that she’s totally crazy. I’d be curious to go back in time and interview ballad singers about what they thought about the song: ‘What do you think about the woman? is she a sinful woman and this is a lesson? Do you sympathize with her or not?’

A collection of 16 traditional songs thoughtfully gathered and interpreted, Anna & Elizabeth’s new, self-titled album (via Free Dirt Records) guides listeners through the duo’s intense personal connection with each song, for a warm and intimate experience. With minimal guests and arrangements, the focus remains on the rich and subtle interplay between Anna & Elizabeth’s own harmonies and instrumentation. Fiddle and banjo lines intertwine in an age-old dance, and Elizabeth’s powerful vocals are matched by Anna’s softer timbre in their remarkably rich harmonizing.

        Devon Léger


Anna and Elizabeth

February 24, 2015


ANNA ROBERTS-GEVALT and ELIZABETH LAPRELLE are based in Southwest Virginia. They met, coming at traditional Appalachian music from different directions.  Anna was in a touring old-time band.  Elizabeth was singing ballads in far-away states.

They came together  to create a different kind of show: one that used theater and stories to show people what they love about old tunes and ballads.  They also knew that keeping the music in the mountains–playing in their communities, playing for schools–was part of the job. With that, they set about making crankies, and learning stories, and trading songs and tunes.

Anna & Elizabeth honor Appalachian artistry and shed new light upon tradition. They have made their most compelling work to date in their new self-titled album on Free Dirt Records.

A collection of 16 traditional songs thoughtfully gathered and interpreted, the album guides listeners through the duo’s intense personal connection with each song, for an experience that is as warm and intimate as their one-of-a-kind live performances.

Soaring through rousing old-time dance numbers, haunting Appalachian ballads and lilting lullabies, Anna & Elizabeth showcases the incredible vocal capabilities of both LaPrelle and Roberts-Gevalt, and shimmers with breathtaking moments of harmony, all laid atop masterfully executed instrumentals. A record equally as invigorating as it is contemplative, Anna & Elizabeth allows for the prolific talents of these two young women to shine brighter than ever before.

Hills of Mexico

January 18, 2015


Selling buffalo hides was for a short time a very lucrative business in the western frontier and countless hunters set out to get a slice of that cake. “Hills of Mexico”(or “Buffalo Skinners”) tells the adventurous story of a hunting party and their troubles. In the end the boss wants to deny his men their pay, so they kill him and leave his “bones to bleach on the range of the buffalo”.

“Buffalo Skinners” was first published by “Jack” Thorp in his Songs of the Cowboys (1908, as “Buffalo Range”, pp. 31-33).

N. Howard “Jack” Thorp (1867-1940) was originally from New York City but as a boy he used to spend the summers on a ranch in Nebraska. Later he moved to New Mexico to become a cowboy and he began learning their songs. In fact he soon was “a singing cowboy who carried his banjo-mandolin with him as he rode from cow camp to cow camp”. He started collecting songs in 1889. “His fifteen-hundred-mile horseback journey through New Mexico and Texas in 1889-90 was the first ballad-hunting adventure in the cowboy domain”. The first edition with 23 texts was privately published and only 1000 copies were printed.

Thorp’s book was the very first collection of cowboy songs and he was a pioneer in that field. But his efforts were quickly overshadowed by John A. Lomax from Texas whose Cowboy Songs And Other Frontier Ballads was published in 1910 and became much more influential, in fact it turned out to be the first stepping-stone towards that massive empire of Folk song he and later his son Alan were to erect in the following decades.

Lomax – at that time a professor for English at Texas A & M – had been interested in “frontier songs” for quite a long time.  He sent a circular to local newspapers and teachers and asked for songs. Most of what was included in Cowboy Songs was received from these kind of sources and there was not much real fieldwork. Some texts were even cribbed from Thorp’s book.

Nonetheless he managed to publish 112 songs, among them many that would become classics of that genre, for example “Home On The Range”, “Whopee-Ti-Yi-Yo, Git Along Little Dogies”, “The Old Chisholm Trail”, “Sweet Betsy From The Pike”, “Jesse James”, “The Days Of Forty-Nine”. “In canonizing cowboy songs instead of ancient ballads, Lomax changed the face of the folk, replacing the sturdy British peasant with the mythical western cowboy”

Back to the Future

January 16, 2015

Elizabeth LaPrelle

July 9, 2014


edited from  Beth Macy (

The Voice hits you first. You’re sitting on your folding chair at the Floyd Country Store, atop a hand-sewn cushion, and you’re content because you’ve just slurped down some rib-sticking Brunswick stew.

As The Floyd Radio Show begins, you think you’re in for a treat—A Prairie Home Companion meets Grand Ole Opry, only situated in the funky, single-stoplight town of Floyd, Virginia, where hippie yurt dwellers bump elbows with fourth-generation farmers and flatfooters. And you’re right.

Except there is no planning for the Voice—and no accounting for it, either. It comes from a pale wisp of a thing who’s twenty-five years old and maybe a hundred pounds. She’s wearing a dark shapeless dress, something your grandma might have worn to a funeral, say, in 1962.

She closes her eyes as she sings. At first you think Elizabeth LaPrelle is shy, but later you figure it out: She’s having a private moment, in front of a hundred-plus people, while she belts out an ancient ballad, resurrecting the same high, lonesome sound that crossed the Atlantic more than a century ago and once echoed across ridgetops in these southwest Virginia hills.

LaPrelle’s shimmering resonance has been compared to that of Emmylou Harris, her ornamental trill to the church-influenced work of Ralph Stanley and Iris DeMent. “Soul,” says Joe Wilson, a Virginia-based folklorist and Library of Congress Living Legend. “Those notes go back to the beginning, to the place where, as Bill Monroe once put it, ‘the ancient tones reside.’ LaPrelle’s voice could keep a muskmelon in the air at a hundred yards.”

But The Floyd Radio Show counts on more than just the Voice to sustain it. There’s the Fiddle, too: Anna Roberts-Gevalt, LaPrelle’s twenty-six-year-old cohost and an acclaimed musician in her own right (she sings as well and also plays the banjo and guitar). Where the Voice is small and still, the Fiddle is energetic and rangy, all elbows and legs. 

Looking back on their chance meeting in 2010, at a house concert in Blacksburg, their musical partnership was practically fated. A native of Rural Retreat, Virginia, LaPrelle developed an affinity for traditional music at the folk festivals and fiddlers’ conventions her mother, the singer Sandy LaPrelle, took her to as a child. While her friends listened to Britney Spears and Maroon 5, LaPrelle found herself deep in the archives of old-time ballad singers. 

“The hair stood up on the back of my neck,” she says of the first time she heard North Carolina novelist and balladeer Sheila Kay Adams. “There was something very magnetic about hearing just that one voice, seeing the potential it has to focus attention like a laser beam.” At the College of William and Mary, she majored in a self-designed program of traditional Appalachian performance. She studied mid-twentieth-century singers like Texas Gladden (who grew up not far from the LaPrelles’ Smyth County farm) and learned to recite the provenance of fifteenth-century ballads from the British Isles. 

Up in her native Vermont, Roberts-Gevalt followed a similar path. Her final college project had her traipsing across eastern Kentucky, fiddle in tow, interviewing traditional musicians and listening to them play. She’s since spent time all over Appalachia, especially in Virginia’s New River Valley, where she met a bassist named Joseph “Joebass” Dejarnette who was putting together a CD called The New Young Fogies, a collection of songs by budding old-time musicians. The Fiddle had heard about the Voice and sent her an e-mail, asking her to sing on the CD.

After the house concert where the two met, the ignition of LaPrelle’s rusty Chevy Cor-sica refused to turn. For the next twenty-four hours, the newest of the young fogies were stranded together, and the music never stopped. They sang. They played. Then Roberts-Gevalt showed LaPrelle a creation she’d made in college, called a crankie, inspired by a project of the Vermont-based Bread and Puppet Theater. When set to music, the handmade storytelling scroll unlocked “a new possibility for what a song could be,” LaPrelle says. Both knew the words to an obscure folk ballad in which a Scottish wife follows her man to a colonial war in India, dressed as a man—only to have him die, after a battle, in her arms. That their voices complemented each other was almost beside the point.

Nine months later, they performed one of their first public crankies at the Floyd Country Store. As the Fiddle cranked the hand-sewn panels inside a homemade wooden box, pictures appeared. At the same time, the Voice sang the haunting ancient Scottish ballad, her lyrics lining up perfectly with the passing images. The venue’s owner, Woody Crenshaw, was so blown away that he asked the duo to put on a live monthly variety show. The ancient songs would not only stream live from the Floyd Country Store via the non-ancient Internet, they would also be available on iTunes.