Watching strong musicians advance has been one of my great joys in this life, and watching Lauren’s progress from strong violist to versatile, soulful fiddler and vocalist has been wonderful. Lauren applies a powerful methodical focus to everything she does, and her determined assault on the peaks of great fiddling is inspiring, not only to me, but to her enormous crowd of friends, students, and admirers.
Lauren stepped into a role in my group, the Republic of Strings, previously filled by a stream of the greatest young fiddlers of any era. The way she met that challenge while maintaining her own large teaching studio and a multifaceted leadership role in her Maine community (including president of the Maine String Teachers’ Association) is a case study in organization and application, all powered by the Right Stuff: an irresistible sense of fun, and her endearing radiation of the pure joy of making music.
This first recorded milestone in Lauren’s musical trajectory has now arrived, and it is a beautifully put-together collection of great music that reflects both Lauren’s wide-ranging tastes and her good taste in selecting the fantastic musicians who have helped her realize it. I consider myself fortunate to be a part of her world.
Lauren Rioux is one of the most beautiful people I know, both outside and in. To know her and play music with her is to feel a part of her family, because the love she feels for her musical peers and for music itself permeates all of her projects. Her technical proficiency, the strength of her tone, and her extensive harmonic knowledge make her a powerful and skilled player, but it is the depth of her emotions that make her a delight to listen to. She plays with thoughtful purpose, stringing together notes and ideas in order to effect a feeling in her listeners, uniting musicians and audience for a communal experience of joy. By being deeply in touch with herself and her instrument (both fiddle and voice), she is able to express through music a picture of who she is as a person. Her warm, loving, and spunky nature comes out clearly in this piece of work. This project is homemade in the truest sense, captured in Lauren’s house where she teaches music, put together by a group of friends who believe wholeheartedly in her musical passion and vision. This is a moving collection of melodies rooted in the folk tradition, some old and some new, interpreted by Lauren and her artistic collaborators. She is an emerging gem on the contemporary string scene.
Review of Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings in
“Wintergrass 2011: Testifying.” Victory Music (2011). Web.
Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings:
SATURDAY: Their afternoon show gave us a delicious introduction to this four-person chamber ensemble. Anger, who came to fame as the lead violinist of the fearlessly experimental Turtle Island String Quartet, has chosen three younger masters to join him in this latest project. With Lauren Rioux on viola, Scott Law on acoustic guitar, and Mike Block on cello, they have formed a responsive partnership capable of navigating orchestral-quality arrangements, while leaving plenty of space for sophisticated yet gentle improvisations.
As they broke into “When You Go” by Scott Nygard, the cello rose into the viola’s range as the viola descended into cello territory, and together they sang a polyrhythmic sea chantey made from a whale’s song. The guitar sparkled brightly on the surface, then Darol Anger’s fiddle broke overhead all spiky and high, making explosive crystalline bursts with microscopic shifts of his bow. As I marveled at Anger’s touch, that bespoke years of abundant technique in his hands, I thought of a jazz reviewer’s description of how a Rashaan Roland Kirk solo had “many peaks and valleys”. The cello played rich sawing counterpoint as Anger slipped in and out of composed passages. The ensemble’s glorious polyphony earned them a couple of standing ovations. I could hardly wait for the evening show.
On their Saturday evening set, Darol Anger’s new band again performed complex, delicate music, with invited guests. Wes Corbett from Joy Kills Sorrow came out to play banjo on their first tune, and Joe Walsh, who was about to play mandolin with the Gibson Brothers, came on for the second, “Emily’s Welcome to Portland.” Magical things happened as the Republic of Strings hovered in mid-air, the cello sighing, the mandolin percolating, the viola popping, as if they were the house band at a next-century barn dance. The audience gave them affectionate applause.
On “Being the One Who”, they sang to a Bo Diddley beat about their Republic, “whose imaginary borders extend beyond all other imaginary borders.” Lauren Rioux then launched into a medley of North Carolina fiddle tunes, each one more wicked to count than the last, while Mike Block’s bowed cello navigated scales beneath her against exciting chord changes. On “Looking for the Silver Lining,” the viola and cello made ghostly harmonies as Darol’s violin climbed modestly over the top to take a solo that was slow, graceful, and quietly eloquent.
They added Wes Corbett on banjo for the “definitely post-grass” tune “The Coal Burn and the Grease Fire”. Darol’s rambling verbal introduction to the tune had the audience laughing, but in his sly way he was doing his damndest to teach them to open up their ears. The tune demanded that they slam through crisp jazz changes while maintaining a tonality “about as close to bluegrass as this one is going to get”. The guitar played blistering licks, and the banjo caught him and threw back dense chromatic finger-picking. Beneath Darol’s solo, the viola, guitar, and banjo created an urgent business that burst forth into driving swing, following the cello’s lead while continuing to play changes that the listener could recognize. As they climbed toward the song’s ending, I remembered Anger’s remark that Rioux’s viola “does the Ginger Rogers thing”, dancing backwards in heels to match his melodic lines, the way Rogers used to match Fred Astaire’s steps.
For their efforts, the Republic of Strings earned a standing ovation and an encore. They kept things on friendly terms with “Make Up Your Mind”, a “song song” (with lyrics, not an instrumental) by guitarist Scott Law. Darol laid back as Rioux sang harmony and Mike Block took the break on the cello. It seemed a bar song, a third set slow-dance-with-your-baby. Darol pounced across the stage, contributing fills as funky encouragement to his band. The audience couldn’t help but warm to them.
SUNDAY: Up I went to hear Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings, anchored by the inspiring guitar of Scott Law. I prefer mixes of jazz with something traditional, and they gave us everything from resonant cello, played by Mike Block, to the dueling fiddles of Darol and Lauren Rioux, to fine licks by a student named Tatiana. Lauren sang us a well-phrased version of Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets”.