Folkadelphia Session: Allysen Callery

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If I was to use a single word to describe the music of Allysen Callery, it would probably be “timeless,” although a more accurate way to frame her songs is to say they exist “outside of time.” The Rhode Island based songwriter has tapped into a wellspring of creative spirit and energy that is directly linked to traditional ballads and standards, staples of the folk world. You can feel the presence of classic English poetry and Child Ballads, the collection of English and Scottish broadside ballads collected and published by early folklorist Francis James Child in the nineteenth century, in Callery’s thought process. These are nearly universal stories of romance, morality, mortality, history, and drama that have stood the test of time, influencing musicians and collectors like Harry Smith, Joan Baez, Peggy Seeger, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Vashti Bunyan, and even more contemporary like Anais Mitchell, Marissa Nadler, Meg Baird, and Sam Amidon. Callery has distilled the very essence of what makes these stories ageless, forever relevant, and oftentimes still shocking, deeply meaningful, and utterly heartbreaking. It’s a real trip listening to Allysen’s most recent albums and hearing a ballad like “Young Edwin,” a variation on the murder ballad “Edwin in the Lowlands Low” (Roud #182), or “Long Black Veil,” a newer entry into the balladeering universe, written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkins in 1959 and made famous by Lefty Frizzell, Sammi Smith, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, and others, sandwiched in between originals. Without even realizing it, the seemless transition either makes you believe Callery has written the classic tune herself or that Allysen is arranging a full record of covers and renditions. In both cases, it’s an extreme compliment to Callery’s deft musicianship and inventive storytelling that she can simultaneously draw and utilize this immutable literary and musical tradition, while also putting down what she finds in her mind and imagination on paper and record. I think that Allysen Callery is writing the ballads that future folklorists will call “classic.” Only time will tell.

Allysen Callery made her first trip to the Philadelphia area to play a concert at MilkBoy Coffee (now Melodies Cafe) on July 20th. We are thankful she spent some of her inaugural visit with us.