Saturday, September 10, 2016

Music Reviews: The One I Love Is Gone

There are more similarities both musically and lyrically between blues and bluegrass than the casual listener might expect. Both genres, when done properly, can speak honestly about hard times, loneliness and loss among other themes. 

Bluegrass titan Bill Monroe wrote the song The One I Love is Gone specifically for fellow bluegrass luminaries Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. Dickens and Gerrard came by their love of bluegrass and folk music in different manners. Dickens was born to an impoverished West Virginia mining/trucking family and grew up with the music. Her father was a Primitive Baptist preacher and musician. At least one of her brothers, a miner, died of black lung disease, an event that Dickens immortalized in her song Black Lung. As you might expect Dickens was a fierce supporter of the labor movement and women's movement. She expressed these sentiments in her songs They'll never keep us down and Don't put her down (you helped put her there). Gerrard was a college educated classically trained middle class woman who didn't start singing professionally until later in life. The women apparently met each other via their association with the famed Seeger family. Dickens was briefly in a band with Mike Seeger. Gerrard was married to Mike Seeger. 

The two women formed their own bluegrass group and had some success during the folk revival of the mid sixties and early seventies. They were one of the few if not only female led bluegrass groups when they started together. I was familiar with Dickens from her rollicking interpretation of the hard times song Coal Tattoo and was moved to find other music that she created or performed. Thus, I found this song. It's really almost a blues waltz. Dickens' and Gerrard's voices may or may not be to everyone's liking but to me the two women have a honesty and directness which is special during any epoch of music. Monroe's lyrics are straightforward and simple. Loss stinks. 

The primary way that I interpret this song is that the singer has been permanently rejected and dismissed by her (his) lover. I think you could also make an argument that the singer has been driven mad by their loss and is addressing someone who is in the grave. Either way the loss is permanent. And that's no good. There's a lot of space in the Dickens/Gerrard arrangement. Lauren O'Connell created an updated electric version with more drive which I also like.
I don’t know I don’t know where I’ll go or what I’ll do
It makes no difference what I’ll do without you
Oh I love you my darling but I’ll try and let you be
Goodbye, it’s the last you’ll hear of me

Well I found a bluebird high on a mountain side
And the little bird would sing its little song
So I’ll sigh, I’ll cry, I’ll even want to die
For the one I love is gone

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