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Anna and Elizabeth

The Shakespeare, Sheffield
Wednesday 13 May 2015

As strange as it sounds, it transpires that there are few more enchanting things to do than spend an evening in Sheffield with the crankies. And by Sheffield I mean The Shakespeare Pub on Gibraltar Street, and by 'crankies' I mean the hand-woven storytelling tapestries of traditional Appalachia.

At the crank this evening, as well as the banjo, guitar and fiddle, were Appalachian duo Anna & Elizabeth, two young artists who defy both youth and modernity to introduce the old music and traditions of Virginia to 21st century audiences. Anna Roberts-Gevalt, a New Englander entrenched in the music, history and storytelling customs of the eastern American mountains, provides tender renditions of the music plundered from visits to various archives as well as Kentucky musicians and their families. Smaller in stature, but with a voice so powerful it could carve deep gorges through the blue mountains of her homeland, Elizabeth Laprelle seals the duo's authenticity with her years of musical experience, the very essence of Rural Retreat, Virginia coursing through her veins and vocal chords.

Tonight's concert in the upstairs room at The Shakespeare gave this most captivating of duos the chance to enchant their South Yorkshire audience – a crowd consisting of enthralled listeners and well-known folk musicians alike – with a selection of songs from their two albums, Sun to Sun (2012) and Anna & Elizabeth (2015) as well as the occasional crankie-led retelling of equally haunting and beautiful ballads from their native home and even a little bit of clog dancing, courtesy of Anna.

With no PA to complicate matters and a warm and casual demeanour, this multi-talented pair of twentysomethings took to the stage with their few shared instruments and lamp-lit, tapestry-loaded, wood-frame crankie box to perform such folk songs as Goin' Across the Mountain, Greenwood Sidey and Don't Want To Die In The Storm with an exuberant accompaniment from the keen singers in the audience. And although much of tonight's performance consisted of frankly entrancing crankie ballads such as The Devil's Nine Questions, with its vibrantly coloured tapestry slowly stuttering through the box, as well as the heartfelt tale of Lella Todd, complete with silhouettes on rustling paper, the duo seemed equally adept at bewitching their audience with their choice of musical material, not least Connie Converse's ethereal Father Neptune, a charming highlight from their latest album, and delicately-rendered traditional songs such as Swing and Turn Jubilee and Sinking In The Lonesome Sea, each revealing the power of frailty in these authentic Appalachian voices and the arresting beauty of mountain melodies.

By unapologetically splicing together the music and storytelling traditions of Appalachia, Anna & Elizabeth appear to have introduced a unique genre of folk performance to these shores, and one that nestles comfortably into the material which our folk scene is currently importing from America via the likes of Anais Mitchell, Jenni and Billy and Diana Jones. Tonight's show delivered a generous helping of Appalachian story and song to an appreciative folk-thirsty Sheffield crowd and, with any luck, that same thirst will tempt Anna & Elizabeth back again soon.

Liam Wilkinson
Northern Sky