Rebecca Hall,
Sunday Afternoon
(Listen Here, 2003)

There's always a tinge of uncertainty when a great traditional performer begins to develop on her own work. In the case of Rebecca Hall's Sunday Afternoon, that uncertainty vanishes in the bright perceptions of the opening "Come Around," to be replaced with a new doubt. It's hard to believe these are modern songs; it seems more plausible that they are traditional classics that have somehow never been heard before.

The influence of folk tradition past is clear in every new note. "Sculptor's Song" and "Going North" could easily masquerade as refugees from the British Isles. But Hall is clearly an American artist, and a turn of this album does more than any set of lectures to suggest what makes American folk unique. "Come Around" and "California" resound strongly of the American folk influence, from their country rhythms to the injection of harmonica. The "Ballad of Willie" is only a few generations away from a bluegrass ballad, with Lisa Gutkin's violin summoning the call of a train whistle and the frightening invitation of wide open spaces.

The new compositions show that the perfect resonance of the vocals and perfected simplicity of the arrangements that distinguish the album are not accidental. Hall understands what folk songs should be, how to make them ring true and echo in the heart.

Rebecca Hall once again proves her voice to be a folk treasure in its own right. If possible, her vocals are even more natural and unaffected here than in Rebecca Hall Sings. Her guitar supports and enhances her voice so perfectly as to unnoticeable. Peter Stuart and Orrin Star join the subtle chorus of strings with a wide variety of instruments. The clear, sweet harmonies of Hall's arrangements are perfect for the chosen topics, conveying regret, love or mortal fear with haunting clarity and a somehow trusting sweetness that never feels forced.

Few artists ever create songs that might reasonably survive beyond their own memory. Not a track on Sunday Afternoon couldn't survive on its own, as a heartfelt ballad or wistful lullaby. They'll live beautifully in your heart.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 22 November 2003

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