- Promised Land
- Lord Have Mercy
- 4th of July
- Christmas in China
- Sweet & Sunny South
- What I Did on Mardi Gras Day
- Copper Rooster
- Just Like Eddie
- 11 Days
- Just For Tonight
- We Will Be Reborn
review from New Orleans Times-Picayune
Keith Spera, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune By Keith Spera
December 16, 2011 at 7:00 AM
Nature and nurture conspired to insert a 10-year gap between local folk singer-songwriter Gina Forsyth’s first and second solo albums. Hurricanes, a hospital stay and her perfectionist tendencies all factored in the delay.
In the interim, she continued to perform, mostly as a fiddler for Cajun bands; she’s accompanied Bruce Daigrepont for 17 years. She also released two albums with an acoustic trio, The Malvinas.
But this month, Waterbug Records of Chicago released Forsyth’s “Promised Land,” a collection of solo and ensemble recordings marked by her supple alto, warm-bodied acoustic guitar and a point of view that veers from personal to political.
Born in Florida and raised in Alabama, Forsyth first came to New Orleans in 1983 to study music at Loyola University; her classmates included keyboardist John “Papa” Gros and trombonist Mark Mullins. As she worked toward a degree in classical violin performance, she commuted to Lafayette on weekends to gig with Sheryl Cormier’s Cajun band. The music, related to but different from the traditional fiddle tunes she already knew, enticed her.
“I heard it, and thought it was easy,” Forsyth said. “Then I had to immerse myself in it to play it well. I fell in love with it.”
After graduating in 1987, she moved briefly to Lafayette to continue her real-world studies of the indigenous music of south Louisiana. But even as she toured with Cajun rock band Mamou, she wrote acoustic guitar-based songs in the folk tradition. She networked at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas and won a few songwriting contests. A residue of roots music seeped into her folk songs.
Back in New Orleans, she released her solo debut, “You Are Here,” in 2001. Accumulating enough material for the follow-up was not a problem. Finding sufficient money and time to complete it was.
Over the years, work was interrupted by hurricanes Ivan, Katrina and Gustav. She met, and made two albums with, her fellow Malvinas.
Focused on her own album once again, she spent long hours editing and mixing recordings cut at various studios. The process dragged on. Andrew Calhoun, the proprietor of Waterbug Records, “is a very patient man,” Forsyth said, adding that she “wanted to do at least one more CD before they quit making CDs altogether.”
In late 2010, progress halted when she was felled by a medical emergency that required surgery and an 11-day hospital stay. As she was unable to perform, fellow musicians staged benefits to help raise rent money for her.
“It made me realize that I have so many wonderful friends. The New Orleans community — God knows we don’t make a whole lot of money doing our music, but I love how we get together and support each other. People will come out of nowhere and help those who need it. That inspired me to get going again and finish this album.”
She finally completed “Promised Land” this year. She and the sound engineers succeeded in capturing an intimate, in-the-room, robust tone from the guitars.
The literal song “11 Days” chronicles her hospital stay. “What I Did on Mardi Gras Day” describes working a double shift — 10 hours of playing music — at a Bourbon Street club in 2005.
Longtime friend Jonno Frishberg makes several appearances throughout the CD, on accordion and in lyrics. Mike Barras and Jim Markway, fellow members of the Daigrepont band, contribute drums and bass, respectively, to some tracks. “Lord Have Mercy,” by contrast, is rendered a cappella, inspired by long-ago field hollers documented by folklorist Alan Lomax.
“Christmas in China” uses the ubiquity of overseas products as a roundabout entry to a love song. “Copper Rooster” takes a whimsical look at the post-Katrina rash of copper thefts. “Sparrows” alludes to Forsyth’s spiritual side. “Sweet and Sunny South” is recycled from the Malvinas’ 2005 CD “Love, Hope and Transportation.”
The final “We Will Be Reborn,” featuring Forsyth’s voice and fiddle alongside Mike West’s banjo, imagines a world without “pre-emptive” war; the lyrics owe a debt to historian Howard Zinn. The subject matter neatly bookends the opening “Promised Land” title track.
Such songs “are going to be subjective,” Forsyth said. “You see how stuff affects you in your life and it’s hard to be objective about it. As a folk singer and songwriter, I don’t think I have to be.
“I don’t have an agenda on this record, but I do want to make people stop and think about their lives maybe just a little differently. I’m doing folk music, and we do have a tendency to be opinionated. I feel like I’m continuing in that tradition.”