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More than a 'best of'

By Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands

Spruce and Maple Records: 2008

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This review first appeared in Turbula in June 2008.

One of the most highly regarded bluegrass fiddlers on the scene (she was part of the all-star, all-women bluegrass supergroup Blue Rose in the early '90s), Laurie Lewis is also a stellar singer/songwriter in the countrified folk mold of a Nanci Griffith or Tom Russell. At the same time, as a singer, she's always had the rare ability to take any song and shape it to her own style and voice and make it her own.

A new live CD, apparently the first in her long career, taken from three recent shows in the Pacific Northwest, shows off the full range of her talents: from lightning fast mountain breakdowns to soaring country ballads, from tender love songs to the deepest bluegrass.

It's not a greatest hits on stage set, like so many live albums are. For instance, some of the very best songs she's written – tunes like "Don't Get Too Close," Girlfriend, Guard Your Heart," "The Point of No Return" – aren't found here at all. (Although we do get to hear "Love Chooses You," "Val's Cabin" and "Texas Bluebonnets" from her pen, among others.)

Instead, this seems to be intended as a representative set that she and her current working band, the Right Hands (Tom Rozum on mandolin, Scott Huffman on guitar, Craig Smith on banjo and Todd Phillips on standup bass) might put on in a show.

While it would have been nice to have had more of her compositions included here, it's equally hard to argue against the inclusion of their cover of the traditional "Worried Man Blues" with its five-part vocal harmonies and virtuosic solos. And longtime fans will also cherish the band's take on the heartbreaking "Geraldine and Ruthie Mae," which Lewis sang on the "Blue Rose" all-star outing.

In fact, whether it's a traditional take on a traditional standard or a bluegrass interpretation of Billy Joe Shaver or Irving Berlin, it's pretty hard to find fault with any of the 19 tracks here. Lewis remains as engaging a personality as there is in contemporary bluegrass, and she's surrounded herself with musicians and friends of like approach. The result is more than an hour of top-notch bluegrass playing and good fun.