Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Finger Pickin' Good

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Finger Pickin' Good

Article excerpt

Sometimes a song can take 150 years to write.

During the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, bluegrass artist Claire Lynch got a call from fellow songwriter Louisa Branscomb pitching a "cool story" from her family history.

Branscomb's great-great-great aunt had four brothers who fought in the war. The boys regularly wrote heart-wrenching letters home to their sister Lucinda Caroline, and she kept them all. Centuries later when the family was clearing out the old home place, the trove of letters was discovered.

Frank Chappell, great-great-grandson of Lucinda Caroline, compiled the collection of letters into a book called "Dear Sister, Civil War Letters to a Sister in Alabama."

Inspired by the stories in the book, Lynch said she and Branscomb researched battles and local history to co-write the song that draws on universal themes of separation and loss amid the horrors of war. Even for a seasoned performer like Lynch, the song's impact was surprising.

"Immediately, you see people reach and wipe tears from their eyes," Lynch said of the first times she performed the song live. "We have hit a home run here. If it touches people that deeply, you know you have something special."

"Dear Sister," the title track of her Compass Records project, was named 2014 Song of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association.

"It's probably my most coveted award," said Lynch, who is also a three-time IBMA female vocalist of the year, most recently in 2013.

"I'm hoping that the song has another life, maybe in film," she said in a telephone interview from her Nashville home.

'My Florida Sunshine'

Lynch leans toward a contemporary, folksier blend of bluegrass. Jarrod Walker, a young mandolin and guitar player from the Brandon area, recently joined the band, which also includes bass player Mark Schatz and multi-instrumentalist Bryan McDowell.

Although she has promised fans a swing album, she said she may change course and do a straight-ahead bluegrass project first.

"Jarrod, he's just so good at the 'grass. I think I'll take advantage of having Jarrod in the band," she said of her next project.

While Lynch respects the traditions of bluegrass, she always puts her own spin on classics like a jazzy rendition of "Wabash Cannonball. …

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