When Lindsay Straw first decided to record an album of traditional songs about triumphant women, she wondered if she would be able to find enough material.
“It was almost frustratingly easy after a certain point,” Straw said from her home in Boston. “I thought, ‘I’m going to have about 12, and that’s it.’ But once I started telling people about it, all of a sudden it was like all of these songs pour out of the woodwork, and everybody was like, ‘Have you heard this one? Have you heard that one?’”
The album, “The Fairest Flower of Womankind,” came out in 2017. Fiddle and Bow Society is bringing Straw to Muddy Creek Music Hall Friday night. It will be her first-ever performance in North Carolina.
“Although Lindsay has only been on the scene a short time, she has quickly made a name for herself,” said Sonny Thomas, Fiddle and Bow’s co-founder.
A local duo, Beirt Le Cheile, will open the show. The group features Megan Irby on vocals and Don Penzien on guitar.
Straw’s website describes “The Fairest Flower of Womankind” as “Tales of feminine triumph and ingenuity from the British folk song tradition.” Songs include “The Female Rambling Sailor,” “The Crafty Maid’s Policy” and “The Maid on the Shore.”
“I definitely relate to them,” Straw said. “I don’t think of them as ‘old songs.’ For me they have a lot of very relevant meaning that applies to my current life in a lot of ways.”
Tony Hendry, writing for The Living Tradition, called Straw’s voice “fluid, bright, beguiling, natural and relaxed. Only the fear of adjectival overload stops me there.” He called “The Fairest Flower of Womankind” “a generous 62-minute beauty which will have great appeal for lovers of traditional ballads — in particular the ones where the woman comes off best.”
Additional praise came from the Boston Irish Reporter: “Straw’s melodic bouzouki and guitar-playing are as fluid and graceful as ever, complementing her distinctive singing. Straw’s voice is a quiet one, but certainly not muted or subdued.”
The accompaniment on “The Fairest Flower of Womankind” is often minimal, with Straw’s voice backed only by a guitar or bouzouki.
“If I picked a song up from a traditional singer who had lots of ornamentation in it, and I want to replicate that style, then it usually works better to have little to no instrumentation to go along with it,” she said. “Then you can focus more on letting the voice to do all the little twiddly bits and all the fancy ornamentation. The simpler songs I’ll maybe ornament less vocally and I’ll incorporate more guitar or bouzouki or bring in some additional band members.”
The album landed on some best-of lists for 2017, including Cover Lay Down’s Best Tradfolk Albums and Kithfolk’s Best Celtic Music. The National Public Radio show “The Thistle and Shamrock” put the spotlight on Straw’s version of “Geordie,” an oft-covered ballad about a woman seeking the freedom of an imprisoned lover.
The kind of traditional songs Straw connects with has evolved.
“In my early 20s, I was all about the heartbreak songs and other love songs,” she said. “As I’ve gotten older and interested in more things than just my own romantic struggles, I’ve become more interested in other types of songs, like women-getting-the-upper-hand type of songs, or more historical songs.”
Straw didn’t grow up listening to traditional music. The Montana native started listening to the Beatles and playing guitar as a young teen. She first came to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music, where she broadened her musical horizons considerably. She joined a Celtic ensemble and learned from instructors such as the late John McGann, who played with the groups Wayfaring Strangers and Rust Farm.
“Boston is so full of Irish musicians,” Straw said. “Once I started going to sessions, the whole social scene became very attractive and was very fun to get involved with.”
Now she balances her time between playing solo shows such as Friday’s Muddy Creek concert, teaching private music students, hosting music workshops, playing at weddings and performing with groups. She works with a traditional Irish quartet called Ivy Leaf and performs in a trio with Darcy Noonan, who plays fiddle, and Preston Howard, who plays uilleann pipes and whistle. She has also begun to branch out into bluegrass and Americana.
“Different times of the year, one thing might take more precedence than another,” Straw said. “Summer and fall is wedding season, so I’m busy with that. During the winter, I can spend more time focusing on singing traditional songs or doing things with a band — especially around St. Patrick’s Day. I feel like I strike a pretty good balance with everything.”
If you go
What: Fiddle and Bow Society presents Lindsay Straw with Beirt Le Cheile
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 19
Where: Muddy Creek Music Hall, 5455 Bethania Road
Cost: $15, $13 for Fiddle and Bow members
Information: www.lindsaystraw.com, www.muddycreekcafeandmusichall.com, fiddleandbow.org
By Eddie Huffman
January 17, 2018