New Hampshire Sunday News, Arts & Music Cover Story, Aug 5, 2001 by Laura PopeEven while listing stints such as her gig at Carnegie Hall with the McKrells bluegrass-Celtic band, a shared spotlight with Marshall Crenshaw on NBC-TV's Conan O'Brien Show, and even a time as a touring professional with a Warner Brothers' "hat act," these moments are not what Joyce Andersen considers most impressive.
Just back from Maine's Ossipee Valley Bluegrass Festival and a trip to Norway's Vikedal Roots Music Festival with duo performing partner Harvey Reid, the long-haired blonde Andersen is much more interested in talking about finding a place for herself in folk music, her debut solo CD, "The Girl I Left Behind" and the just released CD she made with Reid called "The Great Sad River."
For a little over a year, Andersen has become a highly visible and resonant addition to the folk music scene locally and nationally, touring with Reid as a solo and duo act. In New Hampshire, Andersen takes the stage with Tom Yoder and Tom Dean at the Meadowbrook Farm Folk Festival Saturday and headlines the Portsmouth Folk Fest with Reid on Aug 25. She also performs Thursday at Castle Hill in Ipswich, Mass., and Friday at Cub Passim in Cambridge.
The Durham native studied classical violin before shifting to swing fiddle at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, her ticket to a wider world of musical styles. An abiding interest in roots music steered her quickly from swing to country music and gigs with John Lincoln Wright, then to bluegrass and a time performing with Sassygrass. Nashville beckoned, she followed, but stayed only a year.
In New York, she's worked as "a side gal" in various groups, expanding on a widely ranging repertoire of styles, "but was never driven to go down one path and become an expert, say, in Irish or swing fiddle. I played a range of styles." Andersen acknowledged she began to bloom during her time in New York five years ago, even though it was also a listless interval. "A feeling of frustration was welling up inside of me as I continued to take the gigs that came my way without knowing what I really wanted to make happen for myself," said the York, Maine, resident. "When I started taking singing more seriously is when my music started coming into focus. It's also the first time I got a guitar, and this was a big part of me becoming a songwriter." Her first spate of songs, including "Back to Love," surfaced in 1999 on a five-song EP.
"I started singing lead in swing and bluegrass situations," she said. "After sets, people would come up and comment on my singing as much or more than my fiddling. I realized I was moving people. A vocal coach in New York taught me how to get out of my own way and let the music come through me. My heroes are those people who let their voice come from deep within - Ralph Stanley and Billie Holiday. I like the high lonesome of bluegrass and the sexiness of blues and swing."
Bluegrass Unlimited magazine lauded her voice as "hair-raisingly lovely in part because she delivers the heartrending lines with such restraint." "I have let a voice within me surface, and it may sound at times like I grew up immersed in bluegrass. One of my songs people really respond to is "Ramblin' Man." It sounds like an old mountain song, especially the way I harmonize with myself on fiddle. It's mysterious where songs come from, but I'm grateful that this one came through me." She finds herself writing about women a lot. "The greatest compliment I got on 'Ramblin' Man' came for a woman who told me she thinks of the song as a feminist anthem. 'Going to Bodie' came to me when I went out west touring and got in touch with that pioneer woman spirit."
Andersen became attracted to bluegrass not in Tennessee or virginia but at the Thomas Point Bluegrass Festival in Maine. "I am a New Englander raised hiking in the White Mountains, not the Blue Ridge Mountains. But when I first started singing and playing that music, I felt it very honest and exciting. It makes you stay up all night pickin' and singing."
Perhaps the biggest catalyst in Andersen's quest for musical fulfillment has been Reid, who opened her eyes to the satisfaction of performing in the spotlight. She first met Reid in 1990 at the Press Room in Portsmouth. "The main thing I'm learning is how to make a living as a solo artist, and as a duo with Harvey. I sometimes miss the band situations but have found more satisfaction up front. I like the fact that I perform authentic American roots music that people are pining for and not hearing on the radio much. That's the world I am part of right now."Reid, who fully appreciates his performing partners sultry swing side, nevertheless hopes she keeps herself firmly planted in folk circles, where he believes she is destined to shine the brightest.