Essential Listening Chapter Four
Compiled by Richard Burkett featuring Elizabeth Loring. Elizabeth is a past SDBS president and editor of the inTune newsletter. In San Diego she was a member of the Shy Persons, Rose Canyon, and Hwy 52. She currently lives in southwestern Michigan and plays regularly with Chicago's Ben Benedict Band.
In lieu of not having SDBS jams, the Tune Up started a list of "essential listening" bluegrass tunes curated by SDBS board member and outstanding musician Richard Burkett.
Here is Chapter five of our "Essential Listening." series. This month features Elizabeth Loring, shown in the photo, who for many years was the SDBS President before moving out of San Diego:
One of my earliest and to this day most enduring influences in bluegrass music is the amazing Lynn Morris. In the 1990s I was trying to learn to sing in a bluegrass style, at a time when there were still only a handful of female bluegrass recording artists. Some sang in a pretty, light and airy style, and some belted it out in a hard-driving way. I didn’t hear too many people I wanted to imitate, and didn’t have the technical proficiency to imitate the ones I did like. I wanted to work out a way to sing like the founding fathers did, but still be appropriate for my gender and my non-bluegrass background. It was hard to achieve the tone I wanted, and to sound “right” without putting on an accent. I wasn’t having a lot of luck.
I travelled up to the Santa Maria festival, and took in sets by Laurie Lewis & Grant Street (with my hero Beth Weil on bass), and an early version of Alison Krauss & Union Station (back when John Bowman was still in the band!). I was discouraged and intimidated by both of the lead singers, and a singing workshop with Grant Street didn’t help me any. I started to wonder if I should just give up. As much as I admired their work, I just could not relate what they were doing to anything I could hope to achieve.
Then the Lynn Morris Band took the stage, and I was absolutely knocked out. I loved the tight band, the tasteful and moving material, and most of all, I loved the genuine and unforced way that Lynn sang. Her vocals were lovely and lilting, with the same graceful West Texas accent of her speaking voice.
And that to me was the key. Lynn sang just exactly the way she talked to you. I could see the answer was not to try to sing like Lynn (although I would LOVE to) but to do everything I could to sing like myself. To sound as much like me as Lynn sounded like herself.
This, I realized, is what Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, and every first-generation bluegrass musician was doing: singing without artifice or imitation. Singing because the song just had to come out of them.
Of course, the trick was to sing like my authentic self and still have it sound good, but that’s what I’ve been working on ever since.
And then there is Lynn’s husband, Marshall Wilborn, whose solid bass playing, well-crafted songwriting, and charming vocals all merit an article of their own.
Do yourself a favor and check out any of their recordings. They are all essential listening for anyone who wants to play or enjoy bluegrass music that is rooted in tradition with a modern sensibility.
Here's Liz's recommendations for some of Lynn's great recordings:
The Lynn Morris Band (1990)
The Bramble and the Rose (1992)
Mama’s Hand (1995)
You’ll Never Be the Sun (1999)
Shape of a Tear (2003)