Joyce Andersen,
The Girl I Left Behind
(Joyscream, 2000)

Singer-songwriter/awesome fiddler Joyce Andersen sings about the Girl I Left Behind in her first full-length CD. Joyce finally gets the spotlight all to herself after ten years of playing fiddle in a variety of bands. This acoustic CD is sure to grab any fan of bluegrass and traditional folk music. She is joined on the CD by several talented musicians, including Harvey Reid (vocals, fiddle, guitar, viola), Lex Romane (arch-top guitar), Jon Ross (bass, mandolin) and David Surette (guitar, mandolin).

The first of five originals, five covers and five traditional songs is called "Columbine." This song was actually written before the Columbine tragedy in 1999 although I thought it fit as a tribute to that event. "Who's That Knockin' at My Door" has a strong bluegrass feel. I was convinced that this song was proof positive of Joyce's southern heritage. Imagine my surprise to find out that she is from New Hampshire. Despite spending several years in Nashville, she has once again headed back up to New England (currently Maine). (Note to self: Yankees "ain't" all bad.)

I was going to say that some of the better songs on this recording are the duets between Joyce and Reid. Unfortunately, I would be lying. There is not a bad song on the CD. "Short Life of Trouble" features some of this pleasurable harmonizing. You can almost picture sitting around a campfire listening to them play this traditional tune. Another good duet is heard in "Maggie." This is quite a moving rendition. Reid actually wrote "Show Me the Road," which is about finding your way back to your roots, your friends and family, your home. These two truly make a nice duo.

"Bodie" was a mining boomtown in California during the 1800s. Joyce wrote this song, using a quote from a girl who was headed there: "Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie." Talk about a statement that grabs your attention! "Giving Everything Away" is a great little jazzy tune from the 1920s that is fun to listen to. This is a story about a gal who constantly gives everything away, whether it be milk and butter from her cows or goods from a shop she works in (until she's let go). I love the Billie Holiday classic "Don't Explain." I've heard many versions over the years and I have yet to hear one I did not care for. Joyce's rendition has her own flavor to it. It is not my favorite, but it is good nonetheless.

How many times have you enjoyed a band until you have seen just how bad they sound live? The liner notes say "Rambling Man" was cut live. I can not tell the difference between Joyce's live performance and her in studio work. That has to say something about the caliber of her work that she does not need studio magic to sound decent. I live in Texas, yet this song brought me back to the mountains of western North Carolina that I haven't seen in years. I later read in the liner notes where Joyce stated that she was "...trying to conjure up the old mountain music sound." I have to say that she succeeded.

"Devil's Fiddle" and "Growling Old Man" run together almost as one longer recording. The first song contains vocals -- a story about a girl whose life is changed by an old fiddler man. The second, easily the best track on the album, is a fast-paced instrumental with definite Irish influences. I, for one, would love to hear Joyce play a whole album of similar tunes. Joyce wrote "Lean Into the Light" for her mother, who has been living with cancer for several years. Perhaps I'm biased as my mother is in need of a liver transplant, but this song really touched me. I almost felt like this song had been written for my family's situation as much as Joyce's own. The traditional "When I Was a Young Girl" brings a tranquil closing to the album. This is a sad song about a woman who is close to death lamenting the loss of her youth.

Joyce has a way of bringing old songs back to life and neatly inserting new material cozily alongside in a coherent, well thought out, poignant CD. If you haven't figured it out yet, I am certainly recommending The Girl I Left Behind as a worthy addition to any bluegrass/folk traditions collection.

[ by Wil Owen ]