Laurie Lewis is one of the leading exponents of modern bluegrass, equally adept at honoring the music’s basic honesty and homespun roots and at taking the genre in a jazzier, more progressive, and more broadly spiritual direction. A champion fiddler and superb vocalist, Lewis is also a gifted songwriter with the ability to look at the world as a deeply questioning seeker without denying any of its problems or inherent humor. On Guest House, she and longtime partner Tom Rozum (vocals, mandolin, mandola, guitar) explore the byways of the human heart and the vagaries of fate with a collection of timeless songs, old and new. “Willie Poor Boy” borrows its feel from Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd” to tell the tragic tale of a working-class man who decides he’s been robbed one too many times. “O My Malissa/How Old Are You?” is the story of bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe’s mother, an outstanding fiddler in her youth, and her marriage to J.B. Monroe, Bill’s fatherand the effect that eight children had on her musical career. Lewis, Rozum, and banjo picker Tom Sauber play the tune in a joyous celebration of authentic, old-timey musicianship. The album’s title comes from a poem by the mystical Sufi poet Rumi that urges us to treat joy, sorrow, and depression as fleeting guests in the home of the heart, since every experience can open us to “some new delight.” Lewis and Rozum have obviously taken his words to heart; every song here is full of an uplifting spirit that invites listeners to let their own inner light shine.
J. Poet writes about pop music and culture for Paste, Harp, Grammy.com, and many other publications and Web sites. He lives in San Francisco with his partner and his CD collection.