Review: Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard: The DC Tapes 1965-1969

Like Flatt & Scruggs or Reno & Smiley, the duo name of Hazel & Alice resonates as a source of inspiration for bluegrass novices or professional musicians. You don’t just hear Hazel & Alice, you know it’s them. So, Glory Hallelujah! More music from Hazel & Alice as yet unheard? Yes, here it is folks.

Alice Gerrard found these tapes in her basement– practice tapes, home recordings with kids running around or other extraneous sounds. But the music is right there: raw, direct, unpretentious and unadulterated. Alice wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. It only took one listen for me to know that this is music to be treasured.

This collection of songs includes Hazel & Alice covering some of their favorites from a variety of sources including the Carter Family, Merle Haggard and the Louvins. Two voices backed by either guitar, banjo or autoharp is the simple setting by which these songs are delivered. When the music is as good as this that’s all you need.

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“Seven Year Blues”

Beyond the inherent joy I get from listening to Hazel & Alice, what else do I come away with from listening to these recordings? I hear young women in the prime of life who loved songs and singing first; and who were vibrant and creative with their delivery of country music and the blues. You really can’t escape the fact that Hazel & Alice had political vision and talent while remaining devotees to their musical heroes. All you’ve ever heard or read about Hazel’s West Virginia roots or Alice’s life-long journey digging deep into the well of old-time music– that energy is here. Alice does the bulk of the instrumental lead playing. It’s strong but not flashy– and complements and supports the singers. It all seems so simple, doesn’t it? Well, few succeed like Hazel & Alice did.

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