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Sunday November 23, 2014
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Anna Ash

 

continued

But she really does.

The snows had not yet begun to fall that night when Anna Ash, as wispy and delicate as her name implies, took off her shoes in the living room of a sleek modernist house on the west side of town, tuned up her banjo, nodded to a young man with an upright bass, and began to trill. From my vantage point at the food table, I could see the room grow still and focused (no one was drunk yet) as Ash's strange and wonderful voice rang out across the Norwegian wood.

Perhaps it was the "salon" feel of the evening, but I kept imagining Ash 150 years ago, as after-dinner company would have urged her to favor them with a song. With a gray-silk-clad matron at the piano, she would have modestly delivered a popular song of the day: "A Shy Young Maid" or "Along These Poplar Lanes" or "Ever Do I Cleave to Thee" — okay, I'm totally making these up, but you know what I mean: songs that require a delicate, innocent soprano. I imagined her around 1920 in Hollywood, auditioning for a vaudeville show, singing reeeeeallly high, impressing some fat producer in suspenders, and getting the part. She's totally there in the 1940s too, in a black-and-white film, wearing a silky white gown at a smoky dinner club. . . .

'Round about 1950, the imagining got harder; this isn't rock 'n' roll. And even though her music is closer to folk than anything else, I wonder if Ash's understated, sometimes saucy femininity would have been drowned out by the protest songs of the 1960s.

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