Recommended Tracks: “The Ballad of Johnny Fall”, “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains”
Artists You May Like: Abigail Washburn, Rhiannon Giddens, The Ormewoods
Sharing a passion for Appalachian music and a common goal of promoting the unconventional beauty of the genre, Ellen Gozion and Emily Pinkerton have been writing and recording as The Early Mays for ten years. Their deep appreciation of and devotion to the craft of songwriting has led to many wonderful projects and warm performances, strengthening their bond and ability to create. For the duo, it is all about giving new meaning to traditional music, whether it is using their elegant voices to add extra harmonies to a chorus or scouting to find venues that have the right acoustics for a live recording or show. On their latest EP, Prettiest Blue, The Early Mays continue to celebrate their folk roots, but also fuse it with the modern elements of songwriting to keep the pure spirit of the genre alive and well.
The EP begins with two original compositions, the first of which is “The Ballad of Johnny Fall.” Containing restless banjo and sinister lines from the cello, played by Nicole Myers, the track takes the form of an Appalachian murder ballad, complete with haunting lyrics and melodies. With their stunning harmonies, The Early Mays describe a woman who falls in love with a man whose eyes are “the prettiest blue.” Without revealing too much, this seemingly innocent love story takes a dark turn with the woman coming to hold “a rifle on her arm” as she waits for him to come home at the end of the day. The Early Mays then switch to a lighter sound with “On a Dying Day,” even though its title implies a darker vibe. Inspired by Emily’s time spent on the shores of Lake Michigan, the track explores the concept of redemption, as the woman in the song finds comfort along the shoreline.
The remaining three tracks on Prettiest Blue are new arrangements of songs The Early Mays grew up around. For “Shakin’ Down the Acorns,” Emily incorporated cello and harmonium into the arrangement to enhance the texture and merry energy of the traditional instrumental tune. There is also “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow,” which is about a woman who is left the day before she is to be married. Her devastation is so substantial, she asks to be buried “under the weeping willow tree” so that the guy who left her realizes what he has done. The Early Mays match this devastation by drawing out major chord changes and minor turns in order to get the full effect of the emotions at play. The duo then close out the EP with “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” which is claimed to be Emily’s favorite on the project. Giving new life to this tune from the early 1900s, Ellen switched the key from major to its relative minor in order to make it resemble the moody ballads she loves. The Early Mays also focus on only three of its original verses, finding that its story of homesickness can be told and felt through those verses alone.
Overall, Prettiest Blue is a prime demonstration of revival at its best. Together, The Early Mays prove that music from the past does not need to be dismissed because it may not be as thrilling as it was in its time; there is still so much life to be found. This message can also be applied to the theme of the EP, which is about looking beyond what you see. In the end, The Early Mays remind us that music has a way of being there for us, and as long as we can appreciate all that it can offer, its essence will never be lost.
You can listen to Prettiest Blue on platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, and SoundCloud.