Review: Nora Brown and Stephanie Coleman – Lady of the Lake

Nora Brown has teamed up with award-winning fiddle player Stephanie Coleman for their new EP ‘Lady of the Lake’. Listen to the outstanding lead single.

By Alex Gallacher

Nora Brown, the Brooklyn, NY, eighteen-year-old banjoist/vocalist, is a name known to most of our readers after we reviewed her debut album Cinnamon Tree in 2020, Sidetrack My Engine in 2021 (featuring special guests Jerron ‘Blindboy’ Paxton and Jackson Lynch), and Long Time To Be Gone in 2022, recorded over a weekend at St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn, New York.

With a dedication to the regional styles of banjo playing from eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, Nora has travelled and learned from master musicians and folklorists, including Alice Gerrard, George Gibson, John Haywood and the late Lee Sexton and Art Rosenbaum.

She has won an increasing army of fans wherever she goes (including Newport Folk Festival, The Kennedy Center, Trans-Pecos Festival, globalFEST and more) and has picked up plenty of praise from artists, including fellow banjo player Jake Blount who once tweeted: “If you’re not listening to Nora Brown yet, you’re wasting your life”.

For her latest forthcoming release, Nora has teamed up with award-winning fiddle player and fellow Brooklynite Stephanie Coleman for a new EP ‘Lady of the Lake,’ out July 28 on Jalopy Records. It’ll be released just three days before the duo tapes an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, which we’re all really looking forward to watching.

Over the past two decades, Stephanie has established herself as a highly respected and sought-after practitioner of traditional Appalachian and Midwestern-style old-time fiddle. She has recorded and toured internationally with artists such as trailblazing all-women stringband Uncle Earl, Watchhouse’s Andrew Marlin, GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter  Aoife O’Donovan, and clawhammer banjo virtuoso Adam Hurt.

The chemistry and richness of Brown and Coleman’s musical partnership belie their twenty-year age difference and reflect the six years the duo has performed live together. The EP comes amidst more activity this year, two sold-out shows in London; festivals set for Canada, England, and Denmark; a spring Japanese tour; a recent appearance on WNYC’s tastemaker Soundcheck show; and the duo’s forthcoming west coast debut with concerts in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA.

Coleman learned the instrumental title track, which you can hear below, from a performance by Eric Merrill at the fiddle competition in West Virginia’s Appalachian String Band Music Festival, aka “Clifftop.” The song originated with Galax, VA fiddler Parley Parsons via the great fiddle and banjo player Paul Brown. It will be released this Friday (June 30th) as the first single from the EP.

Stephanie shared the following:

Every August, there’s an old-time music festival held in West Virginia called the Appalachian String Band Music Festival, aka “Clifftop”. It’s a mecca for old-time musicians and fans – a few thousand people convene to camp out and play tunes all day and all night. That’s most of what happens at the festival, aside from the traditional music competitions and a couple square dances and concerts. I’ve been going since I was 12 years old. So many formative musical experiences for me have happened at Clifftop.

I remember competing in the fiddle contest in 2005. I can’t remember what I played, but I’ll never forget hearing my good friend Eric Merrill play “Lady of the Lake” in the final round. It was one of the most beautiful live performances of fiddle music I’ve ever heard. Then back at the campsite, Eric and I played hours and hours of tunes together and undoubtedly, we would have played this one, but it never quite stuck in my repertoire. A few years back, though, I happened upon a recording of that fiddle contest and learned the tune on the spot.

This version of “Lady of the Lake” originally comes from Galax, VA fiddler Parley Parsons via the great fiddle and banjo player Paul Brown. Apparently, Paul unknowingly changed the B part when he learned it from Parley Parsons, but didn’t realize it until years later. Eric (and now Nora and I) plays Paul’s modified version, but the original tune is fantastic, too. – Steph

The playing throughout is exceptional; there’s an edge to their playing that makes you want to lean in, waiting for that break…and when they get going, boy, do they go—outstanding musicianship from start to finish.

The EP was produced, recorded and mixed by the legendary Peter K. Siegel, who also produced Joseph Spence, and Doc Watson; recorded concerts that were later released by Mississippi John Hurt, Roscoe Holcomb and Dock Boggs; taped an iconic Bob Dylan bootleg in the basement of Gerde’s Folk City; and has made vital field recordings on musicians from Indonesia, India, China, and Sweden.

Of the duo, Siegel said, “I was a big fan of both Nora and Steph when they were performing separately. Their new collaboration is more than the sum of its parts. They make their virtuosity so much fun to listen to. Their music is deeply rooted in American tradition, but the excitement of their performances is all theirs.”

Other upcoming releases on Jalopy Records include Cuatro Vidas by acclaimed New Mexican string band Lone Pinon and Secret Museum of Mankind: Atlas of Instruments – Fiddles vol. 1.

Source: Nora Brown and Stephanie Coleman – Lady of the Lake

Leave a Reply