Seeing Things

Laurie Lewis
Rounder Records

If you want to know what kind of a bluegrass singer Laurie Lewis is, you only need to listen to one phrase. In the bridge of the song Visualize, from the new CD Seeing Things, she sings the phrase "and she knows," letting loose on the last syllable, sliding up and holding the note just long enough for tension to become passion. Lewis sings the same way she plays fiddle -- emotionally, but tastefully controlled.

If, however, you want to know about Lewis as a songwriter, you'll have to listen a lot more. Lewis -- in the company of such standouts as Iris DeMent, Judith Edelman, Patty Larkin and the Indigo Girls -- can and does write about anything. Moreover, she makes it all compelling.

On Seeing Things, Lewis seems to be both embracing and struggling with maturity. In the one hand, she is sultry and direct on Tattoo, a song that leaves mental images indelible as the name on the narrator's arm. On the other hand, the straight-ahead bluegrass cut Blue Days, Sleepless Nights is about playing it safer than she used to: "I used to dance out on the edge / I was possessed, I could not fall / But nowadays I just inch along that ledge / afraid to dance, I barely crawl."

Maturity and perspective come into play on both the clever Kiss Me Before I Die and the affecting Angel on His Shoulder. The first is a funky, funny Mary Chapin-Carpenter - meets - Bonnie Raitt seduction song which owes a lot to Tom Rozum's mandola playing. The second is a sparse song built on two quiet guitar parts. Powerful in its specificity, it is a testament to faith and a sense of higher purpose.

In the Walnut Valley Festival list of artists: