By listening, Anne Harris’ “Roots” trace their ways to the depths of all our souls, whether we know it or not. Stretching across landscapes as well, and certainly back in time, Harris’ melodic roots are incredibly beautiful, despite being gnarled in places by ignorance and disastrous circumstance. When Anne Harris plays her violin, it’s as if voices from within her sing out of necessity. Look at her unadorned back and shoulders and her dreads reaching for the sky. That photo of Anne Harris on the cover of her seventh album alone speaks volumes. She can carry the weight, and she’s free.
“New Frontier” begins it, Harris painting a scene of a transitional moment, the melodies reflecting what she describes as the “Sad sweetness of simultaneously looking behind and ahead.” In the haunting “Miner’s Child,” the room transforms to a time in the beautiful Virginia hills where Harris’ paternal grandfather sharecropped. She wrote “Maxwell Street,” of course, in tune with the legendary Chicago marketplace where blues boomed in the 1930s and 40s.
Harris lives close by there now, and her tones and approach are steeped in those blues, and in other black traditions. Inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s famous take, her version of “The Star Spangled Banner” unfurls in frenetic, disjointed fashion, a result of her dismay with today. But the song does appear, and that’s a sign of respect, and hope.
Harris plays everything by herself on the album, most of it alone on her violin. The multi-faceted results she achieves are astounding. But, in the old blues “Walk with Me” for one rare instance, an added dimension of her playing violin and mandolin completes the effect intended in the title. Grace and old-style grit resounds, all at once. “Rhia’s Valley” gets all worked up, an adaptation of a traditional reel that evokes images of men splashing ale. Likewise, “May Mountain Waltz” will have Irish eyes smiling.
Anne Harris seems open to any possibility, based not only on this gorgeous music, but on her resume that includes associations with the likes of Anders Osborne, Living Colour, and most notably, Otis Taylor, with whom she spent nine years. She’s one of the two main characters now in a short film called The Musician, advertised with the tag line “Transforming lives one song at a time.” That surely plays out here, 14 times, all wonderfully.
— Tom Clarke
- Anne Harris
Label: Rugged Road Records
Release: Feb. 2, 2019