“Free at last,” someone once exclaimed at seeing barriers fall, but don’t forget to pay respects to your forebears who labored long and hard to give you your licks. Evie Ladin does. She goes way back in her nods to the greats, before bluegrass even, back when they were still ‘string bands.’ And that’s the way she plays her banjo, too, not strummed- she doesn’t go THAT far back- but picked in a claw-hammer style that is at once expressive and percussive. If you’re looking for ‘Orange Blosson Special’ you might have to wait a while. More modern influences might include Emmylou and Marcia Ball, not to mention her producers and virtuoso musicians Mike Marshall on guitars and mandolin and husband Keith Terry on drums and percussion. A stellar line-up like that pretty much justifies the cost of admission straight off.
The album starts off fairly predictably, with ‘I Love My Honey’ – “love my honey I do…love till the sea runs dry,” a quick-picking number that re-assures you right away that at least you did choose from the right Amazon rack. Song #2 ‘Romeo’ is a nice change-up, more folk-style, with some nice organ and drum, that lets you know that you better put down you Sudoku and listen to this album, or you might just miss something- "you wanted me to be your wife… what changed your mind?" Song #3 ‘Float Downstream’ drills the point home even further with its slow lugubrious “my baby left me.” So THAT’s what’s bothering Evie, and millions of women- and men- like her. Love is transitory, going by like a speeding train in one of Einstein’s famous ‘thought experiments’ if you can’t get into the same frame of reference… BEFORE the opportunity passes. Fortunately you can, at least some of the time, as in ‘How Did You Know’- “I didn’t want it to get nasty… after all these years I’m still here,” a slow soulful lament with an ultimately happy ending of willed… not resignation, but adaptation.
By now Evie’s made her points on love- okay, one more point on #5 ‘Dance Me’ – “waited my lifetime for just such a man… who can dance me the way that my baby can,” and NOW we can proceed to kick out the jams a little. ‘One of These Days’ is Las Vegas bluegrass a la Emmylou- “a long time ago, life was so slow… win or lose, have another round,” and ‘Mardi Gras’ is a jazzy Cajun fiddle tune, Marcia Ballsy and rollicking- “Mardi gras is a grand party.” She’d probably do better to wait a month for Festival Internationale Louisiane. Still feelings of hurt and loss creep in, no matter how effective music’s ability to allay them, as in ‘Maybe An Angel’ – “can it be I’ll never see you again? Where you flying now?” with some nice organ, or ‘Precious Days’ with its sparse banjo and guitar, introspective- “well all my years have gone before me, and the race is almost run… I know my journey’s just begun.” Finally there emerges a re-assertion of core values, common to all string bands of whatever stripe, home and family, in ‘Home From Airy’- “this old house is run-down, but it’s mine… it’s home and I know where I stand,” fiddle and banjo now in service to the greater good. The circle is complete, and that’s good. Give ‘Float Downstream’ by Evie Ladin a listen. You might just be surprised. I was.