Life’s Looking Up For Bluegrass-Gospel Artist Claire Lynch

Twice nominated for Grammys, she has new album and ever-greater acceptance.

Claire Lynch doesn't see

herself as a bluegrass blue blood.

She grew up listening to Joni

Mitchell and the

COLOR="#003163">Grateful Dead, in between

harmonizing with her sisters around the family piano, to her

parents' favorite show tunes. But when future husband

Larry Lynch invited her

to hear the bluegrass group he'd formed at the University of

Alabama, she was hooked.

"I just loved the sound of the music — the acoustic

instruments, that it was all natural, " she recalled. "If I

hadn't been able to sing, I think I'd have been a bluegrass

groupie."

She could sing, though, and was invited to join the band,

which soon began touring the Southeast and beyond. But she

quickly found she'd have to establish her own identity.

"It was a man's music when I started out in the ’70s," the

two-time bluegrass Grammy nominee recalls. "I mean, big-

time. There were a few women, but they were pretty brassy

— they had to be. I just couldn't do that."

Breaking The Mold

Not fitting the "good ol’ boy" mold, Lynch turned instead to

the eclectic song bag that still marks her work, driving and

intelligent acoustic music based in bluegrass but not

limited by it.

"The bluegrass audience has accepted us — although I

think the real traditionalists would prefer something more

along that line," she said of her and her

COLOR="#003163">Front Porch String Band's wide

ranging, folk-tinged repertoire.

"We're based in bluegrass, and they know I respect it. I

think the fact that I do gospel has helped, too; that's made

them relax a little."

Coming off the bluegrass circuit, to start a family in the

early '80s, the Lynches made the acquaintance of

COLOR="#003163">John Starling, a former mainstay

of the Washington, D.C.–based progressive bluegrass

group the Seldom Scene.

"He took us under his wing," Lynch said. "There was so much

growth with John, learning how to play with taste and style.

People could hear it."

Musical Flattery

People could hear the developing songwriter behind the lead

singer's style, too. Country star

COLOR="#003163">Kathy Mattea covered Lynch's

"Hills of Alabam," on her breakout Walk the Way the Wind

Blows disc, and Patty

Loveless recorded "Some Morning Soon."

"I wasn't very prolific at songwriting at that point," Lynch

said, "so that was really encouraging."

A solo gospel album on the Brentwood label followed, and

then the Grammy-nominated disc "Moonlighter," including the

hit title track (covered by

COLOR="#003163">Stephanie Davis) and the popular

"Second Wind."

Silver and Gold, Lynch's third solo project, also got

a Grammy nod and saw the musician expanding her range from a

driving contemporary bluegrass cover of "Hitchcock Railway"

(RealAudio excerpt) to the swinging "Who Knows What

Tomorrow May Bring?" and the thought-provoking ballad "Out

Among the Stars."

Moving Forward, To The Back

She was expanding her range as a harmony singer, too,

receiving calls to back up not only Mattea, Loveless and

Starling but also Dolly

Parton, Ralph

Stanley and Linda

Ronstadt.

"When I met Linda Ronstadt, she was obviously familiar with

my work — who knows from where? When I was standing

next to her in the studio, singing — it was in a little

studio in Arizona where she lives — it was sort of like

a dream. Three feet from me is Linda Ronstadt! And I'm

singing with her!"

Lynch, whose vocals can be heard on Ronstadt's Feels Like

Home album, points out that "there's a difference

between lead and harmony singing. When you're doing harmony,

you're there to serve the song, to make the song the best it

can be, not to stand out as you do on lead. It has to be a

whole different approach."

On Love Light, (Rounder), which was released Tuesday,

Lynch has written or co-written seven of the dozen songs.

"I'd have liked to have more," she said, "but I just didn't

have time to write them!"

The high-energy gospel-bluegrass "I'm Movin'" (RealAudio excerpt) is a

track from long-ago mentor Paul

Craft, while "Blue Water Holler" (

HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Lynch,_Claire/Blue_Water_Holler.ram">RealAudio excerpt), which was co-written with

COLOR="#003163">Jesse Leary, is an evocative

trip to a friend's Tennessee home.

For "Love Light" (

HREF="http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/aiclip.cgi?track=~ggg-

XXXXXX/0251260_0103_00_0002.ra">RealAudio excerpt), the title

song, "Really, I just went into that session with the line 'I'm livin' in

your love light' and the idea that we should grass up the song,"

Lynch sings.

Pierce Pettis' enigmatic

"Missionary Ridge," Harry

Hipkins’ swing tune "Stranger Things Have

Happened" and "These Flowers," Lynch's tribute to her

father-in-law, indicate the variety that rounds out the

disc.

A Prayer Before Flying

Looking forward to a busy summer of touring on the festival

circuit — including her first appearance in Japan, as

part of the Country Gold Concert 2000 — Lynch, who has

a teenage son and daughter, said that her goals include:

"Getting through all these gigs and loving the music and the

road, doing a lot more writing, raising my kids without too

much guilt, and getting to the point where we can draw good

sell-out crowds in the kinds of places we're playing.

"I love to play to a full room. I feel as though my career

has developed as much as it has because God has allowed it,"

she said. "And as for what more God has in store, we'll just

wait and see."

Claire Lynch tour dates:

April 15; Fairfax, Va.; Fairfax High School

April 28–29; Wilkesboro, N.C.; MerleFest

June 3; Syria, Va.; Graves Mountain Festival of Music

June 25; Tuscumbia, Ala.; Helen Keller Festival

July 8; Portage, Mich.; Celery Flats B'grass Festival

July 14; Ancramdale, N.Y.; The Grey Fox Festival (formerly

"Winterhawk")

July 22; Somerset, Ky.; Master Musicians Festival

July 23; Nashville Tenn.; Opry Fest Bluegrass Jamboree

Aug. 2; Santa Rosa, Calif.; Sonoma County Fair

Aug. 12; Henderson Ky.; Bluegrass in the Park, Audobon Mills

Park

Aug. 26; Lenoir, N.C.; Main Street Lenoir

Sept. 2; Long Creek, S.C.; Rohletter's Apple Valley

Bluegrass Festival

Sept. 9; Hayden, Ala.; The Acoustic Cafe

Claire & Larry Lynch tour dates:

(Also appearing are the Wild

Hares, Larry Lynch's new Celtic combo.)

Sept. 30; Berlin, Md., The Berlin Fiddler's Convention

Oct. 15; Kumamoto, Japan; Country Gold Concert 2000 (with

the Reno Bros. & Larry

Cordle and Lonesome

Standard Time)

Dec. 2; Memphis, Tenn.; The Lucy Opry (with the Reno Bros. &

Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time)