"I never set out to be a songwriter," admits Rebecca Hall. Her first album, Rebecca Hall Sings!, started out as a demo made on a home four-track recorder. She sold it at shows and handed it out to friends, never really thinking of it as a finished product. But everyone seemed to love it–the songs were honest and heartfelt, her singing clear and unaffected. The popularity of the record grew and Rebecca gained many fans–including the Byrds' Roger McGuinn, Radio Thrift Shop's Laura Cantrell, and BBC Radio 2's Bob Harris–simply by word of mouth.
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Rebecca began performing in 1990, after moving to New York from her native Boston. She played regularly in Greenwich Village, building a repertoire consisting of mostly early jazz and blues standards. "I always enjoyed singing," she recalls, "but I never thought of it as a career–I would just sing whatever I thought would amuse myself and my friends for an hour or so."
Her career as a songwriter, however, began a few years later, with the 1997 reissue of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. Rebecca describes her encounter with this collection of traditional ballads, gospel and blues: "What makes those songs timeless is the way they capture everyday life–the details of daily troubles alongside larger dramas, even tragedies. But they are always matter-of-fact, never whiny." Suddenly, she was inspired to begin writing songs herself: "After hearing the Anthology, I began to think of stories that I wanted to put into song."
She began writing in earnest, and the songs just seemed to flow. Rebecca Hall Sings! was recorded in the summer of 2000, and midway through the following year Rebecca was ready to begin work on her next album.
Sunday Afternoon expands on the sound of Rebecca's first album by combining an American roots sound with that of the English folk-rock tradition to create a lush musical landscape that recalls an earlier era of acoustic music. It is an album that rewards repeated listens. Initially, one is drawn in by the sweet vocals, but as the songs are revisited, many influences reveal themselves. Some are couched in lush strings, reminiscent of Nick Drake or the Left Banke, others are spare and almost hymnal in tone, similar to songs by Iris Dement or Gillian Welch.
Like so many of the ancient ballads, Rebecca's songs have the rare ability to transport the listener–one is compelled to imagine himself or herself driving along the highway that "curls ‘round her sister the river" in "Going North," as a young woman attempting to outrun a troubled past in "California," or, in "Sculptor's Song," as a lover meditating on a beloved she somehow can't quite bring herself to trust, uneasily resolving: "once I've sculpted every mood, then I will know you're mine."
Rebecca performs as a duo with producer-husband Ken Anderson on bass, harmonica and harmony vocals. They have played alongside such notables as Laura Cantrell, Kris Delmhorst, Mark Erelli, Vance Gilbert, Erin McKeown, David Olney, John Renbourn and Cheryl Wheeler, and have toured Europe three times.
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