Just heard Anna and Elizabeth, a duet of two beautiful voices that resurrects the old music from the hills. Their voices are haunting; their music simple and elegant. And they tell stories. Stories from the past, sometimes illustrated with Annie’s “crankies”–little tableaux she makes of cloth and paper. She has a hand-cranked rolling screen with the crankies loaded on, and runs them throughout the ballads. It is a nostalgic gesture that takes you out of the iPhone age, back to sitting around the fire at night after a hard day’s work.
The ladies are musicians, actresses, crafters, and story tellers. They would not be lost if thrown back in time to the little town of Floyd, Virginia where they host The Floyd Radio Show. Before cars, interstates, and electricity made it possible to connect outside your holler, people entertained themselves. They taught each other to play the instruments they carried west or made at home, and used the materials around them to express the emotions of their lives. Anna and Elizabeth, though only in their 20’s, have dedicated their lives to bringing back those musical stories.
Like Rhiannon Giddens and Dom Flemons of Carolina Chocolate Drops fame, these women are not dabblers in music history. They regularly search archives of old music, including the living archives. One of the “projects” listed on their website is “visits with old folks.” Some of the old folks include Paul David Smith, Anna’s late mentor, Jimmy Costa, and the Kentucky Clodhoppers. Anna and Elizabeth tell some stories from their conversation with a neighbor of Lella Todd in their Tiny Desk Concert. Todd was a musician who “could play anything with strings.” She accepted all her neighbors as family. She played her music for them and with them, and brought food, flowers, and comfort when tragedy struck those around her.
Anna and Elizabeth remind me of Tasha Tudor, the writer and illustrator who chose to live out her days in a house without electricity until her death in 2008. She wrote by candlelight, made her own home-spun clothes and cooked by wood fire. She lived day-to-day in a world free of technological white noise, and brought a taste of that life to her audience. Anna and Elizabeth’s songs, crafts, and outreach to the older musicians around them brings that world to life today. Like Tudor, who wrote children’s books, A&E take their music to kids by playing music and doing versions of their radio shows in schools in their local area. I hope the children take home the idea that music is not something you download on your ipod, but something you make together with friends.
Here’s “The Lost Gander,” complete with a crankie:
Anna and Elizabeth’s second album is self-titled, and can be ordered from Free Dirt Records. The next Floyd Radio Show is June 20; you can stream it live or buy tickets to see it in person in Floyd, VA.
Thanks to Dylon Locke and Anna and Elizabeth for the photos used in this post.