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Reviewed by:
  • The Invisible Comes to Us by Benjamin Lazar Davis and Anna Roberts-Gevalt
  • Willi Carlisle Goehring
The Invisible Comes to Us. 2018. Produced by Benjamin Lazar Davis and Anna Roberts-Gevalt. Smithsonian Folkways, CD (1), SFW40229.

The Invisible Comes to Us is the third CD by duo Anna and Elizabeth, following their self-titled CD that appeared in 2015. This new album was released by Smithsonian Folkways in 2018, and represents a forward-thinking approach to the Folkways label and folk music canon. The album should be a welcome addition to folklore courses and to the shelves of music lovers everywhere.

This is a recording full of provocative and well-wrought archival, revivalist, and experimental music. While many folk musicians will copy their favorite performances by mimicking the idiosyncrasies of the performer, there is little impulse to mimic old field recordings on The Invisible Comes to Us. Instead, the field recordings used to make this CD are pieced together throughout in sound collages, mixed with the simple and terrific vocal work of both women. These archival ballads prevail in order to tell a larger tale about the role of folk music as an inheritance and object of study, a story told through the incredible production collaboration between Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Benjamin Lazar Davis. Unlike Roberts-Gevalt's and Elizabeth LaPrelle's previous recordings, this album has almost no banjo or fiddle, and the guitar work, while often using open chords, is melodic more than rhythmic, following sung melodies or spelling chords slowly. Lovers of folk music should expect a CD that demands more attention to form than the recordings they may prefer, but they will be well rewarded for the effort, as the experimental quality here has immense novelty and profound effect.

The visual design of the CD uses a motif of circuitry combined with old photos, appearing like a microchip with folk songs and archival work embedded in it, or perhaps like a maze of wires. This visual approach to ephemera is, like the recording, both digital and analog, both symbolic and literal. Roberts-Gevalt and LaPrelle appear on the cover of the album leaning against one another with their left arms bent and hands side by side in a mudra or a ritual dance. The pattern of the circuitry (the main motif of the cover) reaches out and joins with their hands, as if they are meeting, manipulating, and bending the circuitry together into new forms. This is a powerful image, suggesting that the bloodline of archival music, heard digitally and reproduced mechanically, can be chosen, fostered, and manipulated by interlocutors, inheritors, and artists. True to this, the liner notes go into significant detail about how to find the archival materials that are featured in some of the songs.

On the inside cover, a palimpsest or collage shows Anna Roberts-Gevalt next to an archival photo of a woman, which is held up by the hand of an unseen person, as if someone is making a playful comparison between artists and subject. Right next to Roberts-Gevalt is another figure, seated, whose head has been blotted out. This figure appears on the CD itself as well. What is at stake here is unclear, but a slippage between past and present, being and non-being, is certainly at work.

It should be noted that the playing on the album is excellent. Guitar licks, drums, and horn virtuosity drive anxiety and sensuality into these ballads, and the liner notes reveal rarely heard instruments like the Hardanger d'amore, Moog, and Mellotron. Roberts-Gevalt's excellent fiddling is absent, and it's easy to miss the lope and drive of her right arm from previous work. LaPrelle's clawhammer banjo is rare but clarion. The singing is up to par with the [End Page 378] extraordinary work the duo has created so far, but vocal attack has more variance. LaPrelle often forgoes the glottal lift or falsetto sigh she has been known to use in her ballads. Roberts-Gevalt oscillates between using this technique and singing plainly and beautifully. The mixing quality of the vocals is lively and precise, making a stark separation between the digital production and...


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