"I was at a reception at a beautiful house overlooking the beach in Santa Monica in December," says bluegrass singer Claire Lynch, "standing in a room with world-class artists from all over the U.S. And I'm thinking, 'What the heck am I doing here?' "
The former Front Porch String Band frontwoman was in Santa Monica to receive one of 50 yearly United States Artists Fellowships, worth $50,000 apiece. Begun in 2006, the awards are handed out to leaders in eight categories: music, dance, crafts and traditional arts, visual arts, architecture, literature, media, and theater arts. Lynch represents a new focus on American roots music, joining fellow 2012 award-winner Tony Trishka and 2010 recipient Rob Ickes. It's exclusive company, and a nice confidence booster for an artist who's struggled with self-doubt.
"Even though other people around you see it, some people have more trouble believing in themselves," Lynch tells the Scene via phone from her home in Alabama. "But I think all the accolades, attaboys and support from my band members and close friends have kind of built me up."
Lynch is a two-time International Bluegrass Music Association Vocalist of the Year (1997 and 2010) and twice Grammy nominated, but she also spent many years in the shadow of her then-husband, Front Porch fiddler and mandolin player Larry Lynch. Even though the couple ran the band together, he made all the final decisions. When they divorced in 2005, Claire fully took the reins and made a splash with her second solo album, 2006's appropriately titled New Day.
Lynch's solo debut came a quarter-century earlier with the country-pop release Breakin' It, a label condition for FPSB's first national release. Both Lynch and the band went on hiatus afterwards, with Lynch taking time off to spend with her family. In the meantime, Breakin' It became a cult favorite via public radio. By 1986 Front Porch String Band was getting show offers, and in 1991 they made their official return with Lines and Traces. They'd release four more albums together (under Lynch's name) before they hung it up again.
"My marriage wasn't doing well, and I thought if I stopped playing music it would help," says Lynch. "So we worked at that for five to six years and realized it wasn't helping. So I went back to what my gut wanted me to do: sing."
Lynch followed 2006's New Day with 2009's more folk-inflected Whatcha Gonna Do, and she's recently finished recording her next album, tentatively titled Dear Sister. The title is taken from a co-write with Louisa Branscombs based on recovered Civil War letters sent to Branscombs' great-great aunt. The 10-song LP is due out in the spring and represents Lynch's first for Compass Records after 18 years with Rounder.
"We're taking a fresh approach," says Lynch. "Rounder was interested in marketing me to the bluegrass audience — which is fine and dandy; I made my place there — but we just wanted to lean a little more Americana. I have a couple of young guys in the band, and their idea of bluegrass is a bit more edgy than what I grew up with.
"They're challenging Mark [Schatz, bassist] and I in that way, and we're challenging them toward a mature outlook to the music — less is more, listening while you're playing and simplicity. There are a lot of wonderful, creative things happening within the group, and it's morphing into something more than bluegrass."
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needs more candlelight! i like this song.