INTRO – If you like your country or acoustic music slick and highly produced, don’t buy the following CD by Raleigh’s Lynda Dawson and Greenville’s Pattie Hopkins. One guitar, one fiddle, two voices … that’s it … and the CD’s title tells you everything you need to know about the music inside. George Olsen talked with Lynda & Pattie and has this.
When I receive music in the mail the first thing I might notice is the CDs title. In the case of Lynda Dawson & Pattie Hopkins CD “Traditional Duets” the first thing that popped into my head was “they certainly didn’t expend a lot of energy naming this disc.” After listening to the disc my review changed to “great music, boring name.” Boring or not, Lynda & Pattie somehow stumbled upon a perfectly descriptive title for their CD that somehow after centuries of traditional music is absolutely unique.
(PH) “Traditional Duets was actually a place holder with our graphic design artist and toward the end of the project we fell in love with the title. (LD) I put it as a place holder because I thought surely there are 300 other albums called traditional duets and the last thing I want to do is put out a record that’s competing against something much larger than what we’re doing here. But when I went on Allmusic and Amazon and Itunes I discovered there actually is no other disc called just Traditional Duets, this is the only one, so we realized it said exactly what it was.”
If there are awards for truth in advertising, Lynda & Pattie will win one. There is nothing modern about this CD at all beyond the fact about half of the tunes still require attaining performance rights through various publishing companies… oh, and it’s on a CD and not a 78 rpm vinyl record. And Lynda plays an 80-year-old guitar on a couple of tracks for good measure. So when you buy the “Traditional Duets” CD, you are going to get a CD of traditional duets … period… the only proviso being traditional can be in the eye … or ear… of the beholder. Lynda Dawson.
(LD) “Traditional is a word I think has as much meaning to the person saying it as the person hearing it. What’s traditional to you may not be traditional to someone else. If I played this for my relatives in New Jersey, they’re thinking Everly Brothers and old 50s stuff. If I play it for someone in the Midwest they might think something else. For us, quite honestly, the songs are for our history what we consider traditional because of the way we’ve come up in the bluegrass world and the old time and country world, these are the songs that were passed down to us from people that we really respect and admire.”
And that’s all very true. My definition of traditional music has run along the lines of “something that came out of the mountains a century-or-two ago that nobody knows who wrote it but everyone knows how to play it.” This is why I’m not a musicologist. Well, there’s plenty of my definition of traditional music on “Traditional Duets” but there’s also plenty of traditional music that falls under Lynda Dawson’s description… songs passed down to them as they came up in the music world.
(LD) “As a songwriter I find Bill Monroe to be one of the most inspiring people for me because his songs that he created, not only did he create them for himself and his band but they started a whole new genre of music, so I love listening to old Bill Monroe recordings and the energy he puts into those songs. You hear those same songs today done by other artists but when you hear Bill Monroe sing the songs he wrote they just grab you in a different way.”
Bill Monroe music is probably a good time to note that while “Traditional Duets” is the first CD by Lynda Dawson & Pattie Hopkins it’s not their first recorded effort together. They record and perform with the Raleigh bluegrass band the Kickin’ Grass Band… Lynda since its inception 12 years ago and Pattie is the “newby” in the band with four years. So that’s how they met but performing as a duo was essentially a happy accident. The final year the International Bluegrass Music Association held its convention in Nashville prior to moving to Raleigh in 2013 Lynda Dawson organized a “Raleigh Room” there which she assumed Kickin’ Grass would perform at. Pattie Hopkins
“We had never played as a duo before and we had assumed we’d perform as the Kicking Grass band but the boys weren’t able to come so we just performed as a female duo, and actually landed an international festival off that particular performance so we thought we might want to continue with this particular project.”
Which they did… hence the CD I’m talking about. Performing with Kickin’ Grass they were familiar with performing together but performing together ALONE was another story. Lynda Dawson.
(LD) “One thing we found when we started performing as a duo, the intimacy that it brought and the exposure. When you don’t have a full five piece line-up to hide behind and all the hot picking to carry you, you have to be really thoughtful about the arrangements you choose and that’s both vocally and instrumentally.”
When they first started performing as a duo there were duo versions of songs performed with Kickin’ Grass as well as some of Lynda’s own compositions. For this project though, it’s solely… well, traditional duets… there’s that “great music, boring title” again. Most songs they tried to stay fairly close to the original. Some of the tunes, because they were well-and-often performed, got a little interpretive.
(LD) “A Distant Land to Roam we stuck pretty closely to the recording because we loved it. But others like Cold Rain and Snow, that’s a song you can hear the Grateful Dead do it, Del McCoury, and we kind of made up our own arrangement of that, the rhythm, the vocal harmonies (PH) the actual words (LD) to be from the female perspective, so some of the songs we created our own sound to because we wanted to but others we really loved something about we might want to capture that we sticked with it.”
They say about 50% of their traditional repertoire were songs that both were very familiar with while the rest came from one side or the other. And then there’s the occasional nugget uncovered when looking outside their own storehouse of material such as the traditional tune “Beautiful Hills of Galilei” they first heard performed by Hazel Dickens.
(LD) “Pattie and I had never heard until this project and when we heard it it instantly resonated with both of us so we worked up our own version of it. But I have to be honest with you… we didn’t even know the words when we went into the studio. We learned this song specifically for this record, so that’s exciting and new for us.”
While the only acapella track on the disc, “Beautiful Hills of Galilei” might best represent what the disc is about. Both musicians have impressive credentials, particularly Pattie with study at ECU as well as with Mark O’Connor and Bobby Hicks who played fiddle with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. Nevertheless, those instrumental credentials never really get a chance to shine on “Traditional Duets” … as Lynda & Pattie both agreed, where the song is the thing.
(PH) “I play to the project, and I felt this project, the Traditional Duets project, I felt it needed the simplicity of the fiddle lines. A lot of it I felt didn’t need that hot bluegrass picking. I felt the track didn’t need it. It’s always interesting how it forms and how the final product ended up happening. When I reflect on this project I think about the vocals a lot, how our vocals fit together, and everything plays a vital role. Not to say in the future we won’t get a little hot picking in there (Laughs).”
The new CD from Raleigh’s Lynda Dawson and Greenville’s Pattie Hopkins is called “Traditional Duets.” I’m George Olsen.