Laurie Harris Music

bluegrass / bluegrass gospel / acoustic roots

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BREATHEcast Back to the Mountains Review

By Timothy Yap, September 25, 2013

Laurie Harris’ Back to the Mountains has a vintage sound to it.  Save for two originals, Harris revisits some of America’s best loved spiritual folk anthems that have had played a definitive role in the shaping our religious, social and cultural heritage.  Listening to this record is like taking a nostalgic or educational (for those of us who are younger) back into the past as we marvel at how these songs provide hope for the starving family during the Great Depression wondering when their next meal would be. Or as we are prickled at the heart knowing how these songs would bring comfort to the widow who just received news that her husband had just been bombed at Pearl Harbor during World War II.  Though there is a glowing sepia-tone-like beauty to these renderings, they are by no means superannuated. Calling to mind Emmylou Harris or Iris DeMent, Harris’ crystalline voice has a remarkable gift for phrasing.  Thus, when she sings these songs of yore she imparts a primal longing, angst and anguishes that still resonates with our modern hearts.  This allows us to appreciate how the issues that many of our fore parents faced (be it death, loneliness, brokenness and the need for God) are not only palatable but they are a carbon copy of our deepest yearnings too.

Album opener “I’m Going Back to the Mountains” is a first class ticket back to the simplicity of life in the rustic beauty of God’s country side.  This is the place where time moves like an Alaskan glacier and where the person who takes eleven items into the ten item express checkout no longer irk us.  Harris’ uncluttered mountain pure nuances together with the simplicity of the guitar certainly are perfect connoisseurs to the song’s idyllic lyrics.  Then Harris moves into more maudlin territory with her rendition of the folk ballad “Bury Me Under the Willow Tree.”  Though the song’s been archived since 1906, it has recently appeared on Chris Thile and Michael Daves’ latest release as well as Rosanne Cash’s bucket list record “The List.” “Bury Me Under the Willow Tree” is a sturdy reminder of how time has not insulated us from the vulnerability of the human heart.  This song tells of how a broken hearted girl wishes to be buried under a willow tree after being jilted by her faithless paramour.

Harris gets into more spiritual terrain with her reading of “Jesus Loves Me.”  While many have ignominiously domesticated “Jesus Loves Me” as a mere children’s lullaby, Harris brings to her reading a matured identification to the hymn that it has a heartfelt rhetoric that reaches beyond children to all who need the assurance of our Savior’s love.  While “Wayfaring Stranger” is an updated version of John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,”  “Wayfaring Stranger,” a traditional ode that Emmylou Harris brought to the Billboard Country Top 10, is a powerful narrative attempt to show us that this world with all its trappings of sins and sufferings is not our final destiny.  Though a plethora of artists from Anne Murray to Harry Connick, Jr. to Barbra Streisand have tackled the Irish folk song "Danny Boy," Harris never fails to bring out the inert pain of the song as a mother bids farewell to her son going off to war.

Two originals dot the record: “Victory Over the Grave” and “He Picked Me Up.”  If one has not read the liner notes, one would not even realize they were two new compositions coming from the pen of Harris.  This means that they have the same stellar quality as the ensuing classics with both cuts lyrically rooted in the gracious Cross of Jesus Christ.  In sum, Harris has shown throughout this fine rootsy debut that she has an uncanny knack to take the classics and breathe new life to them.  Together with her youthful sensitivity as well as her seasoned nuances, she have a way of transporting us into God’s presence where beauty is not only sung but experienced all around.

  © 2014 Laurie Harris Music