There’s beauty in simplicity, a sentiment perfectly illustrated in Prettiest Blue, the new EP from Appalachian folk duo The Early Mays. However, don’t misunderstand—simplicity doesn’t mean “simple.” In the first notes of opener “The Ballad Of Johnny Fall,” Emily Pinkerton’s banjo finger-picking constructs an intricate foundation, supported by the deep resonance of guest collaborator Nicole Myers’s cello. Together, their driving, minor-key intensity creates an ominous quality, juxtaposed with the delicate vibrato of Ellen Gozion’s gentle voice. Three elements to build a song – simplicity? Yes. Simple? Not even close.
It also is worth noting that while The Early Mays’ music is steeped in the Appalachian folk tradition, the sentiment is absolutely modern. For example, the structure of “The Ballad Of Johnny Fall” is based on murder ballads of yore. Here, The Early Mays push back against the historical misogyny of the genre, and place the power with the abused woman in this story – however, fate intervenes before she takes matters into her own hands.
In the Pinkerton-penned “On A Dying Day,” inspired by the shores of Lake Michigan, the waves offer redemption to the weary narrator, with the banjo echoing the motion of the rolling water. “On a dying day when the dunes roll down, I’m gonna wear these waves like a wedding gown. Gonna wear these waves over all my skin, in the only place that will take me in,” she sings.
The band dips into their influences with the final three tracks on the EP; in the instrumental “Shakin’ Down The Acorns,” a tune by West Virginia Music Hall of Fame royalty The Hammons Family, reminds us of the Celtic origins of Appalachian music. Pinkerton’s buoyant fiddle dances around the warmth of Gozion’s harmonium and Myers’ cello. They take a page from The Carter Family with “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow” and “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains” to finish the EP. Even after a cursory listen, it’s impossible to overlook the care and respect that went into recording these songs, which are, simply put, timeless.
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All Photos of The Early Mays by Kristi Jan Hoover