Rayna Gellert says her new album, "Old Light: Songs From Childhood and Other Gone Dreams," is not the beginning of a new chapter. In fact, she's not sure what role it will play in her career.
Gellert has been best known as the fiddling member of Uncle Earl and, before that, the Freighthoppers. She's recently begun performing with Knoxville adoptee Scott Miller and the two released the EP "Co-Dependents" together earlier this year.
"Old Light" is Gellert's first outing as a singer-songwriter with her own project. Although the album began as Gellert recording folk songs that had an affect on her during childhood, it became something else.
"At one point the project got stalled and I told my husband, 'I'm getting obsessed with these songs about memory.' He said, 'You do realize you have a theme there, right?' "
The album then became a combination of those traditional songs and how Gellert remembered them and songs about memory. "It's sort of related to being so fixated on memory, but not being able to trust memories," she says.
One of the most striking numbers is called "The Platform." It sounds as if it could be the story of a person with Alzheimer's disease, but the true story behind it is more dramatic.
"That one was inspired by my friend who wrote the liner notes to the album, David Stuart MacLean. He suffered amnesia from taking Larium, which is an anti-malarial drug. He was traveling in India and the song is very literally taken from his experience. He came to on a train platform and didn't know who he was or why he was there."
MacLean's memoir of the experience and recovering from it will be published in book form in 2013. Gellert says she was particularly struck by the fact that Mac-Lean couldn't remember his girlfriend who was with him.
"The very idea that you're in love with someone and they don't remember you. Obviously that applies to a lot of things, anyone who's dealing with Alzheimer's, dementia ..."
"Fly To Me" was inspired by Clive Wearing, who suffers from a severe case of short term amnesia.
"Like my friend waking up on that train platform, Clive Wearing is like that minute to minute," says Gellert. "He can remember things that happened a long time ago. And there's no kind of connecting thread, except that he's still completely in love with his wife and every time she walks into the room he's really excited because he thinks he hasn't seen her in a really long time."
Of course, Gellert's own memories figure in the choice of folk songs. She says one folk song included on the disc, "The Fatal Flower Garden" (an ancient song about a child murdered by a gypsy woman) is the first song she can remember clearly from when she was about 4 years old.
"The imagery is so disturbing and I visualized that happening in my yard or a neighbor's yard," says Gellert. "We didn't have a TV when I was that age and I took things so literally!"
Gellert grew up in Indiana and studied classical violin, but loved the folk music her parents played as well. Her father is old-time fiddler Dan Gellert, but the entire family was musical.
"I always assumed I'd play music, it was just which instrument," says Gellert.
However, although she was learning violin, she rarely looked to her father for instruction, because he was so intense and serious about the music that it was too much for a young student. Now, she says, she listens and watches what he does intently, but at the time, she was learning old-time music from recordings.
"Once I got serious about it, I was locked in my dorm room in college listening to dead guys on a tape machine."
Gellert says she's enjoying performing with Scott Miller. The shows, so far, have been strictly Gellert performing on Miller's songs. But, with her new album, Gellert is also stepping out performing with her own group.
"It's not like anything I've done," she says. "It's me following my own vision more than I have before. But I've never been a (band) leader before. I don't know if I'm going to be good at it!"
Scott Miller with Rayna Gellert
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5
Where: Laurel Theater
Tickets: $17, advance, $18 day of the show, $16 for students and seniors, available at www.jubileearts.org
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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