Though Marisa Anderson – accomplished itinerant improviser – released “Traditional and Public Domain Songs” (Grapefruit) this past winter, the record seems sent from the collective memory of the Mississippi Delta to break the long iron New England snow. Her warm sound shines through the patterned slats of her resonator guitar as sunlight splinters through tree limbs when you lie in the grass. She plays with great patience – lingering in the microtonal planes afforded in open-tuned slide, letting notes curl into each other, washing your ears in the blood of the blues.
Like the best settings of vocal music, Anderson uses her guitar to wordlessly sing her chosen songs. On the Carter Family popularized spiritual “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” she lets an open string on the fifth scale degree feed back, ringing subtly against the chord changes and increasingly intricate rhythmic variations, a unity through incidental dissonance in the linked passage of the harmonic series. The melody of New Orleans second line staple (and perennial country weeper) “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” gets a contrapuntal treatment, two lines mutually complimented as they move forward, all jazzed up with chromatic passing notes. The archetypal murder of “Pretty Polly” at the hands of the song’s guilt-ridden protagonist becomes the tumultuous internal swarm of undampened arpeggiations blotting each other out.
Anderson’s tone is one to wade out into – one moment her slide brittle and brief against the grooves of the steel strings, the next a long-in-dying tremolo her instrument’s heaving breaths. Anderson is mesmerizing – from the freer interpretations, such as the shamanistic “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” to straighter renditions, such as the Merle Travis thumb-hop of “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” – the swirl of whiskey poured into tea; a drawn-out story in the shade.