Uncle Earl

She Went Upstairs

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Uncle Earl is that all-female roots and traditional music project fronted by Jo Serrapere and K.C. Groves that also stars Laurie Lewis, Sally's Van Meter and Truitt, and Pooh Stevenson. With the exception of two originals, one each by the two front-women, the rest of the material is culled from traditional material and carefully chosen covers of old-timey music, bluegrass, and folk songs. Of the 12 selections here, there is nary a weak one. Serrapere and Groves' vocals blend in perfect plaintive harmony. Both are excellent lead singers as well. She Went Upstairs is a journey in song, through the backfields and wooded lots of an America that may be disappearing, but remains intact in certain territories, and certainly lives archetypically in the hearts, strings, and voices of Uncle Earl. In some cases, they improve upon an original, such as the pair's rendering of Utah Phillips' nugget "Orphan Train." With Stevenson's mandolin driving the track accompanied by Van Meter on bass and Groves on guitar, the two singers alternate verses and turn the mythological symbolism and clich├ęd text of Philips' story into a genuine tale of sadness, tragedy, and longing. Likewise, William York's usually uptight, whitebread gospel tune "Over in the Gloryland" comes off more as a Civil War-era gospel march than anything else, especially with the deft three-part harmony of Lewis, Serrapere, and Groves, accompanied only by a banjo and bass by Van Meter. Their turns and twist of the lyric and refrains make the tune seem alive with meaning and feeling. The treatment of Elizabeth Cotton's "Freight Train," which closes the disc, is both a moving and haunting reminder of the tune's original meaning. "Snow White Dove," a murder ballad which contains the lyric the band took the title from, is a song that Serrapere renders with a plaintive reading of the chilling lyric as a contemporary situation with a folk blues lilt in her voice is further accented by Van Meter's piercing, slow, deliberate dobro playing. In all, Uncle Earl's project is a worthy one, in that it provides a contemporary view of classic material while not resorting to distorting any of the original texts.

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