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Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves

Traditional music is not static; it shifts with the times, uncovering new meanings in old words, new ways of talking about the communal pathways that led us to where we are today. For master musicians Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves, traditional banjo and fiddle music is a way to interpret our uncertain times, to draw artistic inspiration and power from the sources of meaning in their lives. History, family, literature, live performance, and environmental instability all manifest in the sounds, feelings, and sensations that permeate their music. Their 2022 sophomore album, Hurricane Clarice is a direct infusion of centuries of matrilineal folk wisdom, a fiery breath of apocalyptic energy.

Individually they are both leaders in the young generation of roots musicians, de Groot being known for intricate clawhammer banjo work with Bruce Molsky, and Hargreaves bringing powerhouse fiddling to the stage with Laurie Lewis and David Rawlings in addition to teaching bluegrass fiddle at UNC-Chapel Hill. Their first self-titled album released in 2019 garnered attention from CBC Q, Paste Magazine and Rolling Stone Country, earning the duo the Independent Music Awards “Best Bluegrass Album” and a nomination from IBMA for “Best Liner Notes of the Year.” The duo has been booked at festivals and venues such as Newport Folk Festival, Savannah Music Festival, Winnipeg Folk Festival, the Red Hat Amphitheater in Raleigh, NC, and Red Wing Roots Music Festival. Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves create a sound that is adventurous, masterful, and original, as they expand on the eccentricities of old songs, while never losing sight of what makes them endure.

If Hurricane Clarice has the incendiary fire of a red hot live performance, that was very much the plan for de Groot, Hargreaves, and Cook. “We love performing live together so much,” says de Groot. “We were talking to Phil about that, how do you capture that energy and intimacy of a performance without being too aware that you’re recording in a studio? Phil’s idea was to just play it like it’s a show.” They worked out the innovative idea of rehearsing and recording the music as performance “sets” about one hour long. Musically, both artists are at the absolute top of their game. In addition to the recording innovations, the duo have worked tirelessly to build on their already impressive technique and to find new ways to play live together. In stringband music, nearly every song or tune necessitates a complete retuning of the fiddle and banjo, so set lists have to be carefully built and the best artists develop an intricate knowledge of alternate tunings and modalities. For de Groot & Hargreaves, they wanted their set list to build a narrative that flowed easily and that showcased their abilities as consummate artisans.

The repertoire on Hurricane Clarice comes from field recordings, old hymns, and LPs, but it also comes from modern literary sources and original compositions from the two, a delightful mix of the old and the new. Both de Groot and Hargreaves are avid readers, so the Hargreaves-penned title track delves into the surreal world of Brazilian author Clarice Lispector while the Canadian ballad “The Banks of the Miramichi” references the “before times” of a polluted river used as a case study in the environmentalist classic Silent Spring. Hargreaves in particular has worked to incorporate literary traditions and storytelling into the music. Hargreaves in particular has a great love for literary traditions and storytelling. “I feel like playing traditional music is similar to reading science fiction or magical realism.” Hargreaves explains, “We’re taking these traditional components that we’ve learned from a lineage of people passing it down orally. It always changes, someone exaggerates it in a way that fits their storytelling or playing style. It keeps getting weirder and weirder with each telling to match who’s telling it.” Other tunes come from deep dive sources, like Black fiddler Butch James Cage (“Dead and Gone”), or the tune “Nancy Blevins” from fiddler Albert Hash (on further research, the “real” Blevins may have been involved in witchcraft).

Unlike many songs from the bluegrass and old-time traditions, the songs on Hurricane Clarice are not concerned with love. They do wryly tackle topics like seasonal depression (“Each Season Changes You”) and the absurdity of touring (“The Road That’s Walked by Fools”) but if anything was on the duo’s minds while recording it was likely family, either the kind you’re born to or the kind you make yourself. So much of this music is made with intent and meaning without needing words–just swirling dance melodies designed to be played all night–that it seems likely that both Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves were both unknowingly crafting an ode to family as a source of hope in a time of dying.