The Early Mays

REVIEW: The Early Mays Craft Lovely Harmonies on “Prettiest Blue”


The Early Mays — Prettiest Blue

The Early Mays is an Appalachian folk duo comprising Emily Pinkerton and Ellen Gozion. Gozion is the pianist for the Pittsburgh Ballet and Pinkerton has a background in Chilean folk music. So it’s a bit odd that the two would join together to make music that is steeped in the hills of Appalachia.

A lot of bluegrass music is a showcase for just how fast the players can play. The new EP Prettiest Blue is not like that. It is a collection of songs that showcases songwriting ability over flashy playing. Of the group’s sound, Gozion said, “We don’t have a flashy, fast sound, but if you let the music engulf you, there are lots of layers. Our songs give people a place to slow down.” She’s not wrong about that.

The EP kicks off with the murder ballad “The Ballad of Johnny Fall.” At the beginning of the song, you hear the lyrics, “my friends warned me about you, but your eyes were once the prettiest blue.” That sets the background for the story of a love gone wrong over a melody that is largely influenced by bluegrass and backed by strings that heighten the gravity. As the song continues, the subject is warned, “You don’t want to see me, no, when you come stumbling home.” If John wasn’t smart enough to heed that warning, he got whatever he had coming to him. The story is heavy, but it is carried on some of the sweetest harmonies you can imagine, leaving you to wonder if a murder ballad has ever been as pretty as this one.

Bluegrass is known for instrumentals that show off the picking ability of the players. This EP includes an instrumental called “Shakin’ down the Acorns,” but it is not a showcase for lightning-fast picking. In fact, this instrumental is built around the strings with a particular focus on the fiddle. So while it’s not like a lot of bluegrass instrumentals, this tune would be right in place at a barn dance.

“Bury Me under the Weeping Willow” is a song that sticks with you. The instrumentation is simpler than the other songs because it doesn’t include sweeping strings. The banjo plays a prominent role in the song, but what makes the song noteworthy is the harmonies that bring The Carter Family to mind. Don’t be surprised if you listen to this multiple times.

Prettiest Blue by The Early Mays doesn’t go on for a long time, but it still makes an impact. You can’t help but be moved by the melodic arrangements and the harmony vocals. It is influenced by bluegrass without really being a bluegrass EP, and the storytelling is as strong as the harmonies. The EP is available everywhere now. Order your copy here.

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