Asheville, NC -- Acclaimed singer-songwriter Rayna Gellert is set to release her solo debut album Old Light: Songs From My Childhood & Other Gone Worlds on October 2, 2012 via New York-based StorySound Records. A mix of original compositions and fresh arrangements of traditional fare, the 10-track album exhibits her reverence for the varied colors of the rich history of American music while allowing her luminescent voice to shine throughout, both lyrically and vocally.
“I was raised in a household where traditional music was an obsession. I fell into being a full-time musician because I was obsessed too,” says Gellert. “But while I was out touring I realized that it is my job to play music I love, which is bigger than protecting any one concept of tradition. I realized I was an artist, and I wanted to claim that.”
She makes that claim with authority on Old Light: Songs From My Childhood & Other Gone Worlds, an album showcasing her startlingly original talent as a songwriter and a vocalist whose timbre elicits shades of Linda Thompson, Tracy Chapman, Maybelle Carter and Gillian Welch.
Another well-lit signpost of her storied career, Old Light continues to boldly forge the path Gellert began on her collaborative album Ways of the World at the turn of the millennium. Ways immediately pronounced Rayna’s emergence as a world-class fiddle player, which paved the way for her immersion in celebrated string band Uncle Earl. It was a successful journey that lasted five years, punctuated by the experiences of recording with John Paul Jones, Robyn Hitchcock, Sara Watkins and Peggy Seeger.
Much like the Seeger family tree, the musical lineage of the Gellert family is steeped in tradition. Rayna plays her great-grandfather’s fiddle—the same one he was playing in 1917 when, as a Hungarian orchestral musician aboard an ocean liner, he wowed the U.S. Ambassador with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and earned an invitation to America.
Her father played that fiddle too. The honest inheritor of his family’s musical legacy, Dan Gellert took a job as a meter reader, immersed himself in the old, weird music of America, and became the greatest fiddler you’ve never heard of. Then it was Rayna’s turn. She picked up the instrument when she was 10, recorded her first album of fiddle tunes at 24, toured the world, including performances at Telluride, RockyGrass, Bonnaroo, Philly Folk Fest, Lotus Fest, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and was a repeat finalist at the Appalachian String Band Music Festival.
With all the weight of history attached to that fiddle, it’s no wonder Rayna needed to lay it down to find her own voice.
Making Old Light depended as much on forgetting as on remembering. Inspired by her college friend David Stuart MacLean, a writer who told the story of his struggle with amnesia in a segment on “This American Life,” Rayna wrote “The Platform.” When she sings, “Other than being no one I guess I feel fine,” Rayna offers a tribute to MacLean’s harrowing experience.
On the album’s opening track, “Nothing,” featuring Canadian singer Leah Abramson, Rayna speaks to the fragility of memory in general. When Rayna sings, “My memories are not my own / Just a flash of light that I call home,” she reveals the spirit of the album: The past always eludes our grasp, and the art of music—and of life—lies in the soulful embrace of misremembering.
In the album’s soundscape, you hear echoes of Rayna’s musical collaborations. The lush sonic palette reflects her experience touring and recording with Uncle Earl alum Abigail Washburn, while the straightforward treatment of those same songs points to the influence of Rayna’s recent collaborator, Scott Miller, with whom she recorded CoDependents, a 5-track Ep that was released earlier this year.
Miller accompanies Gellert on the downtempo stroll “The Stars” while Washburn adds to the sweetness of the mournful, “Fly to Me”.
Other friends bask in Old Light; Andrew Heller of Toubab Krewe; Nashvillians Jamie Dick, Jon Estes, and Kai Welch; and traditional music masters, including her father and Alice Gerrard, who lends her esteemed voice to the stirring poetic yearning of “In The Ocean”. Nathan Salsburg, a fiercely inventive finger-style guitarist, shares most of the arranging credits, and lends stirring musicality to the album. Releasing on StorySound Records, Gellert met label owner Dick Connette (Grammy Award-winning producer of Loudon Wainwright III High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project) through a mutual friend, the musician, filmmaker, and photographer John Cohen, who did so much to document the traditional music of America.
“1845,” one of the album’s five traditional songs, is one Rayna learned from her father, who learned it from a field recording. “When I was a kid I thought it was a sad song about a man searching for his lost son,” Rayna explains. “Only later did I realize the guy’s pissed because his son skipped work to go boozing.” Whereas Rayna’s father sings it while playing the banjo, her arrangement features acoustic guitar, pedal steel, bass, drums, harmony vocal, and fiddle. It combines her childhood memory of a sad song with her adult understanding of the need to wander far from home, creating a version that, she says, “starts spare but builds into something festive.”
Old Light, at once spare and festive, is a bold new contribution to the music of old America.
“Rayna Gellert is one of my biggest musical influences. Rayna's artistry, musicianship, and songwriting are stunningly soulful and deeply moving.”
- Abigail Washburn
"I love Rayna's musical personality, which is deep, funky, and complex."
- Bela Fleck
“Rayna is one of the most empathic musicians I've played with.”
- Robyn Hitchcock
Rayna Gellert - Old Light Track List: