Alice Gerrard, Jim Watson, Chris Brashear and Cliff Hale– the Piedmont Melody Makers– have a tagline: we “play old-time, country and bluegrass music and make no apologies for it.” No apologies necessary, fans of the genre insist, knowing full well that this Durham, NC based quartet is, in fact, a super group, each member near-virtuosic at his or her craft. There are the group’s songwriters Alice Gerrard– who garnered a Grammy nomination for her 2015 album, Follow The Music—and Chris Brashear– whose last solo recording was produced by the legendary Jim Rooney. Then there’s Jim Watson, who boasts work with Robin & Linda Williams and Their Fine Group, and Cliff Hale, who comes from a long, proud linage of roots musicians. All of them sing and play multiple instruments, together creating a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of harmonies on songs both original and borrowed from history, be it the Carter Family, the Stanley Brothers or Charlie Poole.
Today, Elmore is premiering “One and Only” an original song from the group’s debut record, Wonderful World Outside. Chris Brashear says of the piece:
“I wrote “One and Only” while I was staying at the Colton House at the Museum of Northern Arizona. I was working on another project that, in effect, was completely unattached to this song. But I think that most writers can appreciate that you have to respond to what your thoughts are generating when you are in a writerly frame of mind. And I hear singers. I could hear Alice Gerrard and Cliff Hale singing this duet in my head. It just made sense. Or, think George and Melba, or Porter and Dolly, or whatever classic country duet you want to think of. In the end, Cliff liked the way I sang it, so that’s what happened. It became a song for me and Alice to sing. I like the tension inherent in the position of the protagonist. It’s clear that the flame of love is still there. There is some flailing going as to who is to blame for the breakup. There isn’t a reference to the cause, but someone is definitively leaving. Perhaps it is a hidden critique of monogamy. Could be, could be something else. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the pain is real and a singer can deliver it as an honest, human emotion. Alyn Love’s pedal steel pulled it all together.
The track is a sweet, sad ditty, propelled by the luscious twang of pedal steel and Hale’s pained warble. Gerrard’s high harmonies on the chorus flesh out the piece, which feels timeless, and inserts itself beautifully into the canon.
Connect with the Piedmont Melody Makers on Facebook and listen to “One and Only” below.