'Hillbilly Angel' Performs at Poplar Knight Spot
BY KATHERINE SMITH
Special to The Pilot
Claire Lynch's voice sounds both stout and tender, and is sometimes compared to a -"hillbilly angel."
From starting a band in the mid-1970s to recording with Dolly Parton and the Gibson Brothers, Lynch has been noted for her -compliance to and artful deviations from the stoic bluegrass genre.
Lynch will be playing with the Claire Lynch Band at The Rooster's Wife's Poplar Knight Spot, in Aberdeen, Sunday Dec. 9.
Lynch was 12 when she first began to play the guitar as a -therapeutic curiosity after her family's move from Kingston, N.Y., to Huntsville, Ala. She was raised on classic pop, folk, Broadway show tunes and Christian music while in New York. Her family's move to Alabama coincided with the 1960s and 1970s folk revival.
"Musically, it was an entirely new world," she says. "There's a beautiful rich music heritage in the South, and I wonder if I would have ever started playing music the way that I did if I had stayed in New York."
Initially the move was uncomfortable, but Lynch said by the time she finished high school, she called a little Alabama apartment her home.
Though her parents urged her to transfer back to New York with them in order to attend Cornell University, "I was kind of floundering," Lynch says. "I had a visit with my dad, and he asked, 'What is it you want to do with your life?' I remember blurting out, sort of as an out-of-body experience watching myself blurt out, 'I want to play music for a living.'"
She remembered "speaking it into the -universe before admitting it to myself," and before Hickory Wind, the band she began at 19 with her eventual husband, Larry Lynch. From 1973 until 1981, the band became the Front Porch Swing Band.
After their first nationally released -recording, the band broke up and Lynch had her first child, Kegan, and seven years later, -daughter, Christy.
From 1991 to 2000, the Front Porch Swing Band reunited under four albums, during which Lynch was named 1997 IBMA Female Vocalist of the year.
But because she was playing with her husband in a band that he had originally started, music and their marriage became "competitive," she said in an interview with Bluegrass Unlimited.
Lynch left music, presumably for good, in order to support her high school-aged daughter and try to paste together her marriage.
"I never thought I'd come back," she says. "Then one day I opened my catalog of songs and realized that I'd written my life. I knew that if I did lose my marriage, I was going to be free to pursue what I wanted to do with my life."
In what she calls a "gradual transition," Lynch began singing background vocals, starting with Linda Ronstadt on Ronstadt's classic, "Feels Like Home." Lynch sang -harmony, her voice buttressing Dolly Parton's smokey soprano in "The Grass is Blue" and "Little Sparrow."
Parton described Lynch's voice as "one of the sweetest, purest and best lead voices in the music business today" after inviting her on a promotional tour as her backup vocalist.
In 2005, Lynch began her own project, The Claire Lynch Band, composed of herself, Mark Schatz, Jason Thomas and Jim Hurst. The band released the album "New Day," earning her IBMA nominations for Song of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year.
"They [her songs] have heart-level lyrics," she says. "I've seen a lot of hardship and sorrow, but I'm an overcomer. I think that translates from my soul when I sing."
In 2007, her 28-year-long strained relationship with Larry Lynch snapped.
"Before the divorce, I had to filter all my musical decisions through Larry," she says. "But doing my own thing - I could think for myself as an independent woman. It was like the phoenix rising."
"Formulaically, it's [The Claire Lynch Band] not really that different from the Front Porch Swing Band," she said. "It's centered around my singing, and based around instrumentation of the rhythm guitar."
The band's occasional deviations and "variety" from pure bluegrass named them the first bluegrass band signed to Roots Agency.
Lynch was intoxicated early on by Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. Now, she is "into anybody who's good."
She is inspired by her 23-year-old daughter's music preferences, her band, and "old rock 'n' rollers" like Led Zeppelin, Queen and Bruce Springsteen.
Rounder Records included five of her albums in their "Crowd Favorites" anthology, and in 2010, Lynch received three IBMA nominations including Song of the Year and Recorded Event of the Year, winning the 2010 trophy for Female Vocalist of the Year.
"Touring is an extremely difficult way to live," she says. "But my music is almost a ministry. I don't necessarily mean by pulling in the Christian religion either. But it uplifts people."
She says that when a friend of hers died, his daughter called Lynch on the air at WMNF in Florida. The caller said that her father had wanted to hear only Claire Lynch music during his last days, so his children made several Lynch Pandora stations and played the music constantly.
"That's what keeps me going," Lynch said. "That's what makes me think that maybe I really was called. I want it to help people, because music has done that for me."
For more information, visit clairelynch.com or theroosterswife.org.
Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 6:45 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the door.
For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (910) 944-7502.
Katherine Smith is a former Pilot intern.
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