Custer LaRue,
(Dorian, 1999)

This collection of new and previously released material shows the depth and breadth of Custer LaRue's vocal talents. Coming from a rural background (Virginia's Allegheny Highlands), LaRue grew to appreciate the music of the people, and never lost that passion for folk music. While studying music at Peabody Conservatory, she felt out of place, isolated from those whose key desire was to sing opera and other high music. Through her collaboration with the Baltimore Consort, she finally found her niche, and has been singing with verve, precision and spirit ever since.

Whether singing in English, French or dialectic English, LaRue make the words, pitches and breathing involved in singing sound effortless. This natural ease with singing gives her a delivery that is full of emotion, carried on her clear, pure tones. She flexes in style on this recording, delivering Scots ballads, Louisiana French folksongs and 18th-century English ballads with equal aplomb. The songs have a wide range of subject matter and topics, but they all deliver the chilling stories of the folk ballad.

The recording opens with a couple of feisty songs from The True Lover's Farewell, a collection of Appalachian folk ballads. "Soldier Boy for Me" is a strong and passionate opening track, showing LaRue's versatility. There are three tracks from The Daemon Lover, including the familiar tale "The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night," performed with a compelling percussion accompaniment.

From On the Banks of Helicon, two Scots ballads are represented, the well-loved "In a Garden So Green," sung in a doleful manner, and the less-well-known "My Heartly Service," which catalogues the oxen and plow necessary for plowing the fields in a delightful vocal duet. LaRue is joined on these and many of the tracks by members of the Baltimore Consort, featuring viols, flute, lute, cittern and bandora. From Baltimore Consort's The Ladyes Delight we hear the Thomas Ravenscroft song, "Yonder Comes a Courteous Knight," and Tunes From the Attic contributes "Jenny, My Blithest Maid" by Samuel Akeroyde. Other Baltimore Consort selections include three French tunes from La Rocque 'n' Roll and the traditional Irish "The Wren Song" from the Christmas collection, Bright Day Star.

LaRue's solo lullaby collection, Lullaby Journey, is represented with "Gloomy Winter's Now Awa'," beautifully accompanied by Kim Robertson on Celtic harp and Chris Norman on wooden flute. The Robert Tannahill poem fits beautifully with the dark and mysterious Alexander Campbell tune from the 18th century. LaRue's performance perfectly underscores the lyrics while giving the tune a definite feel of a lullaby.

The new tracks are equally powerful. There are four Louisiana French folksongs, "Il a tout dit," "Marlbru s'en va t'en guerre," "Le matin en me levant" and "Aupres de ma blonde." These songs are sung a capella, giving them a strong punch as they accent LaRue's pure soprano tones and the gorgeous French language. These a cappella tracks stand out when mixed among those with the instrumental background, giving the ear special, simple jewels gleaming amidst the glittering, more complicated tracks.

Perhaps the most moving track is LaRue's other previously unreleased track, "Barbara Allen," which poignantly closes this recording. She sings the lyrics with such love and reverence, you can't help but believe she's been singing this song all her life, and believes every word. It's a fitting finish to this beautiful collection of tunes by this terrific classical/folk singer.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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