Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves’ Hurricane Clarice

cover art for Hurricane ClariceThe coronavirus pandemic of the early ’20s has played a huge role in all kinds of arts and entertainment, which I’m sure scholars will be studying for decades to come. One thing I’ve noticed is that every musician or musical act has responded to the current weirdness in their own way, and those who allow themselves to be most vulnerable and open are making some of the most interesting and moving music. Case in point: Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves.

These two showed great promise on their debut self-titled disc in 2019, and they’re fulfilling it (and then some!) on their second release Hurricane Clarice. This young duo is insanely talented on banjo and fiddle, uncannily tuned in to the deep nuances of traditional stringband music, and wildly willing to apply the lessons of their own lives to their chosen idiom. On Hurricane Clarice they dig deep into archival music of Canada and the American South, mix in elements of their own family histories, and blend in a little taste here and there of studio magic to make an album that is at once staunchly traditional and startlingly modern.

The most modern element of their music may be their attitude toward it:

I feel like playing traditional music is similar to reading science fiction or magical realism. We’re taking these traditional components that we’ve learned from a lineage of people passing it down orally. It always changes, someone exaggerates it in a way that fits their storytelling or playing style. It keeps getting weirder and weirder with each telling to match who’s telling it. –Tatiana Hargreaves

I’m tired of the perceived goal being to push the music forward. I don’t think that means that much and it’s a capitalist idea; a desired goal but not necessarily a positive thing. –Allison de Groot

The nine tracks here include traditional songs, classic country songs, old dance tunes, and original instrumentals, all reflecting Allison and Tatiana’s values of community and family. The opening song “The Banks of the Miramichi” is a pastoral tribute to a river in New Brunswick written by a lumberman and fisherman on the river, Patrick Hurley. Their dramatic harmonies both vocal and instrumental point to the song’s irony – the river was one featured in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as an environment laid waste by pesticide spraying.

Their most solidly bluegrass song is Roy Acuff’s “Each Season Changes You,” which Tatiana brought to the session from a cover by Rose Maddox and of which she says, “This is my favorite country song about seasonal depression.” Their intrumental breaks here are superb examples of how their styles complement each other’s. Their vocal blend comes through strongly on the final track “Road That’s Walked By Fools,” a song (brought by Allison) about the life of a musician on tour by autoharp playing old-time singer Kilby Snow.

Tatiana contributed the shape note hymn “I Would Not Live Always,” based on a version by Clarence Farrell of Tennessee; this one’s chilling in its deep droning fiddle line (and especially Tatiana’s Balkan-like freestyle introduction) and the unearthly vocal harmonies. The duo found special resonance with this song as they recorded the album in Portland during the Pacific Northwest’s record-shattering heat wave of 2021. Here’s a video they recorded of it about that same time, in Vancouver, Canada.

The rest of the album is made up of tunes, some from traditional sources and some originals. Especially intriguing is “Dead And Gone (Hen Cackled),” which combines elements of both of those tunes, which Tatiana sourced from a Black musician named Butch James Cage, a fiddler who started out playing fife in Franklin County, Mississippi. I love this kind of thing, when a fiddler adapts fife tunes, a banjo player adapts piano music, or a guitarist adapts bagpipe music, for instance.

Most lovely is Allison’s tune “Wellington,” which she says wasn’t exactly inspired by her grandmother who lived on a street named Wellington Crescent in Winnipeg, Manitoba – but it reminds her of the times she spent with her in her apartment looking out on the Assiniboine River. The most sprightly tune is “Ostrich With Pearls,” which Tatiana wrote with Ethan Jodziewicz, a bass player and multi-instrumentlist who has recorded and toured with a virtual who’s who in Americana. This one is introduced with a recording of Tatiana’s grandmother Sylvia with a story about the Brooklyn apartment where she grew up; the track also includes the voices of her other grandmother as well as Allison’s Grandmother Shirley.

(As this album’s release date approached it became even more urgently topical with the ongoing refugee crisis created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both musicians come from families who fled eastern Europe – DeGroot’s grandmother’s generation from Ukraine, in fact.)

The music itself was recorded live in the studio with no fixes or overdubs, but many of the tracks are knit together by “sonic interludes and overlays” created from sampled fragments of the music by sound engineer Adam McDaniel. The centerpiece of the album contains the title track, “Hurricane Clarice,” written by Tatiana, inspired by the book The Chandelier by Clarice Lispector (1920-1977). It’s a dramatic tune, and Tatiana says she “felt moved by her writing and inspired by her artistry.” She also notes that Lispector’s Jewish Ukrainian family fled to Brazil in 1922, around the same time that Tatiana’s Jewish great grandmother Taube, or Tillie, fled Eastern Europe. This track opens with Allison’s great aunt, also named Tillie, speaking in Ukrainian about her sister, Allison’s grandmother. It closes with the fast old-time tune “Brushy Fork of John’s Creek.”

This is such a joyous album – by which I mean that few things give me more joy than to see and hear each new generation mastering traditional music and making it their own. Allison de Groot and Tatiana Hargreaves bring their family traditions and history, the art and literature that inspires them and everything else in their young lives to this music, and continue the tradition of making the old new with each generation. Best of all, they share it with us in performance and recordings lilke Hurricane Clarice.

Available from Free Dirt and streaming in all the usual places.
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(Free Dirt, 2022)

Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.

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