"A Long Way From Home"

CD on Fellside Recordings FECD196
August 2005

Sleeve Notes
 The Living Tradition

Shire Folk

NetRhythms & Stirrings

Shreds & Patches

Folk London

Folk On Tap


Sing Out

Dirty Linen

 The Living Tradition
Issue 66 Dec 2005

Good news! A new CD from a singer I have long admired, on a label I have deep respect for. I can't wait to hear it. Five plays later and I know I was right: this is a superb record.

Maturity has strengthened, but not spoiled, Sara's naturally sweet-toned voice, and she uses it without a trace of affectation, happy to let each song stand on its own merits. Her banjo backings do the same, setting up a gentle wave for the song to float on with never a superfluous note. Furthermore the work of Kieron Means and Ben Paley on guitar, fiddle and vocals, plus Fellside's in-house harmonist Linda Adams, keeps up the same standard. As usual with a Sara Grey album the song choice is excellent. Great ballads such as Barbara Allen, The Derry Dems of Arrow (sic), in unusual versions, rub shoulders with comical items like The Prodigal Son and Five Nights Drunk, each one sung in a way that brings out the story to the full. Dramatic contrast comes with Jean Ritchie's Black Water rightly described as "one of the strongest protest songs of the past 45 years", echoed in starkness by the late J.B.Lenoir's Down in Mississippi. Another surprise is the Hank William's classic I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, sung with a melancholy tenderness miles away from Williams' anguished delivery, but no less effective.

Sara's Old Smokey is not the 1950's Weavers hit later parodied by Shel Silverstein, but a knockout mountain song from the singing of the unique Roscoe Holcomb. Special mention has to go to Stephen Foster's achingly sad Nellie Was a Lady a song to wring tears from a statue, beautifully sung by Sara with Kieron in chorus support. Yes indeed, Beautifully Sung!

I had the joyful experience of attending a Sara Grey live gig recently. I came away even more convinced that she belongs in the company of those greats of tradition she so admires. Lily May Ledford would love her style, and the ballad singers of Sodom Laurel would find her a place at the table. To hear her play and sing, to observe that body language, tapping foot, and smiling face, is to know an artist totally at one with her music. Listening to this album brings it all back, so here goes another spin.
Sing On Sara!

Roy Harris

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Shire Folk
January 2006

This CD has a superbly relaxed feel, with Sara Grey's beautifully frailed banjo and tremulous vocal sitting pretty between Kieron Means' guitar and Ben Paley's fiddle. Soak up the Hank Wllllams song 'I'm so lonesome I Could Cry' and you'll see what I mean. The production really captures the good things that happen between these musicians, and the sound of the Instruments is very well mixed. There are also some unaccompanied pieces, such as 'Barbara Allen' and 'Pretty Saro'. There's a good helping of old timey material, but there also a great version of J.B.Lenoir's 'Down In Mississippi'. Kieron Means has a nice bluesy touch to his playing. and It shows up well here, with some well tempered banjo. There are also versions of 'Old Smokey'. and 'Pretty Crowin' Chicken'. These and other well known songs sound fresh and new and there are some great little surprises in there. This is one of the best traditional American albums I've heard for a long time.

Chris Mills

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& Stirrings

Despite its being entitled A Long Way From Home, in a sense this album represents a homecoming for Sara in that she's now returned to Fellside - whose expert recording team she regards as a kind of spiritual home it seems, and for whom she recorded two highly-regarded albums (with Ellie Ellis, if memory serves me correctly) back in the 1980s - to record a brand new solo album as a direct follow-on from her wonderful contributions to the Song Links 2 project. Although this charming new disc is easily appreciated on its own terms, it can just as easily be seen as a perfect companion piece to her son Kieron Means' latest excellent release (Far As My Eyes Can See, also for Fellside, and reviewed here last autumn), which it complements most delightfully. One small instance aside (a chorus vocal from Linda Adams on one track), A Long Way From Home utilises identical personnel (just Sara and Kieron, with occasional contributions from fiddler Ben Paley), the difference inevitably being the shift of emphasis as regards lead vocalist, firmly onto the lovely Sara herself - and of course I wouldn't expect it any other way (it is her album, after all!). Now there can be no argument that Sara is now, and has been for some years, one of the premier exponents of old-time singing and playing; the marvel is that she's always coming up with refreshingly different material drawn up out of the seemingly bottomless well of traditional song, many examples of which emanate from the field of Sara's "specialist subject" of song migration. Traditional, for Sara, can embrace on one hand "straight" balladry from the pages of Child (albeit in fascinatingly different variants from those we're used to, like the South Carolina version of Barbara Alien which Sara learned from Jerry Epstein). On the other, there's the "tradition" of the music-hall, whence comes the delicious parody tale of The Prodigal Son, which Sara tackles with evident relish. And the rural oral tradition, as exemplified by selections like Sweet Sunny South (here presented in the gloriously "somewhat crooked", modal version that Sara got from Wally Macnow) and the "hard-edged mountain song" Old Smokey (from the singing of Roscoe Holcomb). The album also includes two brief instrumental tracks (hey, why not more?). Sara's booklet notes are the epitome of careful, loving research and presentation comprehensively informing us of her sources yet saying much in little space. Now this is curious but, beautifully managed though all the traditional-sourced songs are (and yes, these form the lion's share of the CD), two of the cuts I most enjoyed were her superbly-paced versions of J.B. Lenoir's Down In Mississippi (a duet with Kieron) and Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (where Sara and Kieron are joined by Ben's keening fiddle). Sara also turns in a standout rendition of Stephen Foster's Nellie Was A Lady, evidently responding very deeply to its sympathetic portrait of the non-caricature side of minstrelsy. But whatever she chooses to sing, what makes Sara so compelling a performer is that she so naturally manages the tricky feat of drawing you in with her insight, empathy and compassion while maintaining a sensible
storyteller's distance from the texts. Her performing style, whether singing unaccompanied or frailin' that good ol' five-string banjo. I find immensely endearing. I acknowledge that there are some listeners who can only take her trademark vibrato in small doses, and to those folks I'll address my observation that on this new album that feature might only really be considered in any way an intrusion or mannerism - and even then only slight - on some of the unaccompanied cuts like Barbara Alien and Derry Dems Of Arrow; and by the way, I reckon these two particular seieGtions should really have been "separated" within the running order rather than one following straight after the other with barely a pause). With A Long Way From Home, Sara has produced an outstanding album of authentic old-time music that puts most if not all of the competition in the shade, and it's destined for my albums-of-the­year list already (heck, it's only January!).

David Kidman

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Shreds & Patches
Issue 36

This CD demonstrates the timeless quality of Sara as a musician, a singer, and a lover of traditional music. Ably supported by son Kieron on vocals and guitar, and Ben Paley on fiddle, this CD is a. veritable delight of traditional music with the occasional 20th Century gem thrown in.
I have always admired Sara's choice of material and this CD has some real gems. Versions of classics such as Five Nights Drunk, (7 Drunken Nights), Derry Dems of Arrow, (Dowie Dens of Yarrow) and my personal favourite, a wonderful version of Barbara AlIen I hadn't heard before.
These demonstrate Sara's ability to continually offer us new versions of favourite traditional songs.
There is not a sub-standard track on this whole CD. Rather than try to write out an intellectual analysis I would rather say, go out and buy it. If you enjoy Sara Grey live you will love it, if you haven't heard her before, you are in for a treat!
This is my favourite CD of 2005!

Anne Lennox-Martin

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Folk London

I have been fortunate in seeing Sara perform over the years, both as a solo performer, and, more recently with her son Kieron Means and have always enjoyed both her playing and singing. With this C.D. she has produced a little gem of a record. Unlike many of her contemporaries
Sara has resisted the temptation to produce a C.D. supported by a large group of musicians, or singers on choruses, instead she sticks to what she has perfected, letting her natural, gentle voice and deceptively simple banjo accompaniments.trame an excellent and varied collection of songs. Where she augments her own accompaniment it is with the talented playing of son kieron on guitar and Ben Paley on fiddle. The songs chosen include versions of big ballads such as 'Barbara Allen', 'The Derry Dems of Arrow' and 'Pretty Saro', Jean Ritchie's powerful environmental protest, 'Slack Water', the poignant 'Down In Mississippi' and even a surprising rendition of the Hank Williams classic 'I'm so lonesome I could cry'.
Humor is not lacking however and can be found in the wonderful retelling of the biblical story of the 'Prodigal Son' and the familiar 'Five nights
Drunk'. The C.D is produced to the high standard we have come to expect from Fellside and includes comprehensive notes on the songs. Seeing Sara perform live is an engaging experience, and this C.D; comes a close second.

Brian Cope

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Folk On Tap

Here is a CD from a veteran of the folk scene, if I may be permitted to use that term, with links to a land a long way from her present home.
Sara Grey is an outstanding interpreter of ballads and I still have fond memories of her festival sessions of twenty or more years ago. This particular aspect of her talent is represented here by 'Barbara Allen', 'Derry Dems Of Arrow' and 'Pretty Saro' all sung unaccompanied with details of the songs' travels from the old world to the new presented in the booklet notes. All are fine examples of how to let a song tell its own story without artifice.
A Long Way From Home is not an academic exercise, however, and there's fun to be had in 'The Prodigal Son' and 'Five Nights Drunk'. The majority of the collection, whether traditional or written, comes from the southern states - I'll make Stephen Foster an honorary southerner since 'Nellie Was A Lady' talks of "my dark Virginny bride". Other writers include Hank Williams, J. B. Lenoir and, of course, Jean Ritchie. There are a couple of solo banjo pieces and an unexpected highlight in the shape of 'Old Smokey' and Sara is firm in her statement that 'this is not the saccharine version which is commonly sung'. Sara's stage partners, Keiron Means and Ben Paley join her on nine of the fifteen tracks and the whole set is an absolute delight from start to finish.

Dai Jeffries

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EFDSS Spring 2006

I had the opportunity to meet Sara Grey a little over a year ago. Having recently become interested in Appalachian music, the meeting was set up as an hour-long voice lesson. Instead, we ended up talking for over two hours about the history and presentation of American traditional song. I never sang a note, but it was an amazingly interesting and informative experience. I'll never forget first hearing her sing, it was as easy and as natural as speaking, and in listening to her previous recordings I have found her to be not only a great musician, but also an extremely gifted and dedicated storyteller.
Her latest album, A Long Way from Home, features Sara on vocals and clawhammer banjo, and she is accompanied by Kieron Means on guitar and vocals and Ben Paley on fiddle. It has the gentle, easy manner that is so familiar in her work, keeping the music clear and simple. The understated accompaniment gives it just the right amount of support and feeling, clearly reflecting Sara's commitment to the meaning of each song, never allowing the music to take over the story. Her love and deep understanding of this music shows through every track.
The album contains an interesting collection of songs, moving easily from unaccompanied traditional ballads to songs by Jean Ritchie and Hank Williams. The first track 'Lazy John' is an uplifting feel-good song that sets up the rest of the album nicely. The traditional 'Derry Dems of Arrow' is stunning and is a study in perfect lyrical timing, while J.B. Lenoir's 'Down In Mississippi' has a great blues feel; though Sara's voice might not normally be associated with this style, her delivery is extremely powerful, and Means's harmony on the chorus is striking.
The only thing I found myself wishing for is that the solo banjo tracks would carry on a bit longer. She has chosen great tunes, but they always seem to end just as I begin to tap my feet. However, this is unquestionably my favourite of Sara Grey's albums - a great collection of music delivered with impeccable taste. Fantastic.

Christi Andropolis
Fourth year student: fiddle and voice

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Sing Out October 2006

Sara Grey, an American singer of traditional ballads who is a long resident in the United Kingdom, and her talented son, Kieron Means, have simultaneously released these fine CDs of primarily traditional material on which each performs some songs solo and is backed by the other and/or fiddler Ben Paley, the son of original New Lost City Rambler, Tom Paley, on others.
Grey's singing is seemingly effortless on her collection. As longtime fans would expect from a Sara Grey album, she accompanies herself with her expertly frailed banjo on old-time songs like "Lazy John" and "Pretty Crowin' Chicken," and also turns in some fine a cappella performances on ballads like "Barbara Allen" and "Pretty Saro." Despite Grey's long residency in the UK, she opts for versions of these ballads collected in the United States. There are also several songs where she sings, but leaves the playing to her son (and sometimes Paley). These include a haunting rendition of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," that is very different from Hank Williams' original, and a moving version of "Black Water," Jean Ritchie's powerful protest song about environmental destruction in Kentucky coal country.
Means, who plays guitar in old-time and blues styles, also turns in fine versions of two Jean Ritchie songs: "One More Mile," a couple's conversational song about their forced economic separation, and the often-recorded "L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore," which laments the economic devastation that happens to a small coal town when the local mine has been played out.
Other highlights on Means' CD include "Run Sister Run," a traditional-sounding murder ballad written by Jack Herrick and Tommy Thompson of the Red Clay Ramblers for a Sam Shepherd play, and a rousing version of "Swannanoa Mountain."
Given the interchangeable personnel, one could almost look at these two separate CDs as a double album; and as a double album that holds up well throughout.


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Dirty Linen Feb/Mar 2007

American singer Sara Grey is an outstanding interpreter of traditional ballads and folk songs. Her strong, sweet voice sounds like it was carved from the Appalachian Mountains, but the fact is she grew up in New Hampshire and has lived in North Carolina, Ohio, Montana, New York, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wales, Scotland, and England. On this new album of classic traditional songs, she is joined by Kieron Means and Ben Paley on guitar, fiddle, and vocals. The song selection is a time-honored collection that great singers such as Joan Baez and Jean Redpath have covered before her and includes "Barbara Allen," "The Derry Dems of Arrow," "The Prodigal Son," and "Five Nights Drunk." Other highlights include Jean Ritchie's powerful protest song "Black Water," and J.B. Lenoir's "Down in Mississippi." In contrast to all the traditional material, but one that seems perfectly appropriate, is Hank Williams' classic "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Whether she is singing unaccompanied or with Means and Paley's sensitive and light backing, Grey is a true treasure.
The album has very complete and informative liner notes. Not only are the singers highly respectful of and knowledgeable about traditional music, but they are the natural heirs to carry the music forward to whole new generations.
— Lahri Bond (Leverett, MA)

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