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HAZEL DICKENS & ALICE GERARD "Pioneering Women of Bluegrass" Smithsonian SFCD 40065

Bluegrass fans, who enjoy old timey music too, will treasure this 26 track jewel. Dickens, both solo and with Gerard has long been a favourite of mine. Hazel and Alice, a rock solid unit, revelling in stripped down old timey fare, their voices aided by two or three instruments. Played with I might add, great taste (the late Chubby Wise, Lamar Grier, Billy Baker and David Grisman accompanying Hazel's guitar and Alice's banjo)! Released on two albums in 1965 and 1973, a wealth of treasures unfurl at a constant rate of knots. Female bluegrass has never been better served.

A heavenly version of the Carters "A Distant Land to Roam" defying words of praise, awesome harmonies, Mike Seeger's Carter-like guitar, Grisman's mandolin and Baker's fiddle all but blowing my mind. It rarely gets better than this, unless, that is you're listening to Hazel and Alice.

Try as they do, their efforts to emulate the above are always short. Albeit "Coal Miner's Blues", Hazel's western ballad, "Cowboy Jim", gospel delight, "Gabriel's Call" and western swing standard "Take Me Back to Tulsa" come mighty near. If you like a kitchen table scrubbed old fashioned style, and not mirrored in polish - then this is for you.

Maurice Hope

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This album was reviewed in Issue 18 of The Living Tradition magazine.