By Jackie Morris

White_Swan_-_Susie_Glaze_HilonesomeOnce again, Susie Glaze & The Hilonesome Band have surpassed themselves. In their new, fourth album, White Swan, the celebrated newgrass group stretches the boundaries of their folk/bluegrass/mountain music roots to achieve a fusion of sound that is at once traditional and wonderfully fresh.

Exceptional musicianship, years of playing together, and an almost instinctive familiarity with folk roots have allowed the band to create stunning timeless ballads that sound like traditionals...exciting blends of contemporary folk, Americana and mountain music…and Celtic-inspired originals. And running through all these eclectic influences like a clear mountain stream is the pure, clear voice of Susie Glaze.   In short, this is one gorgeous album – the “best yet” for a group that has long enjoyed critical acclaim.

According to Glaze, White Swan is “the most collaborative work I’ve ever released. The fine players of the Hilonesome Band and I have created these songs together and on this album you hear their voices alongside my own.”

The fine players consist of Steve Rankin on mandolin, bouzouki, acoustic guitar, and harmony vocals; Rob Carlson on acoustic lead guitar, resonator guitar and harmony vocals; Mark Indictor on fiddle and harmony vocals; and Fred Sanders on bass and harmony vocals. Glaze herself plays acoustic guitar and mountain dulcimer, and also contributes exquisite harmony vocals on two songs…one sung by Steve Rankin, the other by Fred Sanders.

But what impresses me most about White Swan – aside from the impeccable performance of Glaze and her band – is the selection and arrangement of songs themselves. The twelve tracks contain a wonderfully eclectic blend of folk classics…or classics-in-the-making. There are gems from James Taylor, Ernest Troost, Steve Earle and Jean Ritchie. An old British ballad (Fair Ellender). And five original new songs written by members of the Hilonesome Band.

Rob Carlson was instrumental in providing four of these songs – often in collaboration with others – and Fred Sanders wrote another. The title track, in fact, with its haunting, old-world, Celtic sound and tragic theme of mistaken identity was co-written by Rob Carlson, Mark Indictor and Steve Rankin. The Dark Eileen is another formidable collaboration by Carlson, Glaze and Rankin, taking an 18th century poetic lament of a young woman for her slain husband and turning it into a powerful song. Based on a true story, The Dark Eileen is made even more dramatic by Glaze first speaking the opening lines of the poem; then basing the chorus on the actual inscription on the grave.

Not all the new material is dark, however. Little Rabbit, written by Carlson and Fur Dixon, is a fiddle-driven, toe-tapping, good-time treat. Rocking in Your Granddaddy’s Chair by Sanders rocks to the gentler side of Americana. And Carlson’s April Fools takes us to the sweet, light-hearted side of love with something of a Bossa Nova beat.

While all of the above songs are originals, Susie Glaze has the ability to make even favorite cover songs and old traditionals sound “new” and fresh. This is especially true of the first track, James Taylor’s Mill Worker, which brilliantly captures the aching sadness of a tedious life by opening with Mark Indictor’s solitary fiddle playing a measure from the Irish traditional, Si Bheag, Si Mhor. Indictor’s solo is one of the most moving renditions of this beautiful song I have heard, providing a perfect introduction  before the band steps in with the driving, “up-and-down” beat of Mill Worker, conjuring up the mechanized sound of the mill.

Some of my other favorites are Glaze’s spirited rendition of two unforgettable Americana songs by the award-winning songwriter, Ernest Troost – Evangeline (a fast-paced murder ballad) and Harlan County Boys (a down-home ballad of a hard, but heart-felt, country life). Susie Glaze & The Hilonesome Band add a whole new, exciting dimension to these captivating story-songs, while capturing the heart and soul of each of them. Me and The Eagle by Steve Earle is another memorable song on this album, and it doesn’t get any better than Steve Rankin’s interpretation, coupled with harmonies by  Glaze and Sanders.

Last but not least, Jean Ritchie’s The Soldier is a timeless – and sadly, ever-timely – song about the tragedy of never-ending war. It is a very fitting end to an album filled with remarkable songs.

Without doubt, White Swan is a “must have” for Susie Glaze fans, and a “must discover,” if you have yet to hear her.

A New York transplant to the tiny town of Carpinteria, CA, Jackie is a freelance writer by profession and a singer-songwriter by passion. Her newly-released third album of original Folk/Americana songs was among Top Folk Albums of 2011 on the Folk Music Radio Airplay Charts. Jackie is also an active member in such acoustic music communities as SummerSongs, SongMakers, and FARWest Folk Alliance.