Anna & Elizabeth make these incredible collages called ‘crankies’ to illustrate their songs : “A crankie is a long scroll placed in a frame … as you sing a ballad or tell a story, the scroll is cranked around so you see one part of the scroll at a time. We make the scrolls together. Some of them are quilted and stitched together, so they’re giant 16-yard collages, basically. It’s all embroidered on. We make them with paper cuts, and we put a light behind them so they can be in silhouette.” Here’s an example. Lord Bateman is an ancient ballad with a very strong storyline and was one of the Child ballads collected by FJ Child.
Elizabeth LaPrelle – Lord Bateman
Elizabeth LaPrelle and Anna Roberts-Gevalt have both been listening to old-time Appalachian music since they were teenagers. Elizabeth majored in Appalachian traditional performance, while Anna took a few years longer immersing herself in Kentucky music before writing a thesis on it. They met by chance thanks to a broken down car, and bonded immediately. They’re now both 27, they’ve just released their second album simply called Anna & Elizabeth, and on the strength of this they’re among the foremost old-time singers in America. Indeed veteran Alice Gerrard, who guests on the album, says that “these young women follow in the footsteps of many of our idols and mentors who’ve gone before, and they do them proud.”
There are 16 tracks on the album. Instrumentation is sparse : both women play banjo, Anna chips in with fiddle and guitar, Joey Abarta guests on the uilleann pipes. The singing style is also unadorned : no dramatic rise and fall, no big emotional display. It’s not that they’re purposely setting out to sound authentic – after all, they’ve given the songs their own arrangements. These are songs that they have a deep feeling and respect for (on some of them they’ve already spent months making crankies), many of them are ballads that tell stories, and they understand that the point of the performance is to let the stories shine through.
On May 12th Anna and Elizabeth are playing at Liverpool’s Caledonia pub. Come along if you want to see some crankies for yourself …
Anna & Elizabeth – Lovin’ Babe
A tune by roots legend Uncle Dave Macon.
Anna & Elizabeth – Greenwood Sidey
“The Greenwood Sidey is a very dark ballad about a woman who kills her children. She becomes pregnant, she goes into the forest and gives birth, and then kills her children. Then they come back to her as ghosts in the forest and she talks to them. She’s like, ‘What will happen to me now that I’ve killed you?’ and they say, ‘You’re going to spend the rest of your life in hell.’ It’s a very dark, creepy, beautiful song. We wanted to make a crankie that could explore that dark, macabre side of Appalachian music and these old stories.”
Anna & Elizabeth – Voice From On High
Gospel song written by the father of bluegrass Bill Monroe.
Anna & Elizabeth – Orfeo
Another Child ballad. The magical story is based on a medieval romance of which the earliest text is almost 700 years old. The drone effect is created by Joey Abarta’s pipes.