• As Lady Moon, SHEL's Eva Holbrook is Exploring New Avenues of Expression

    A reprint from the Weber Mandolin blog published May 3, 2020, authored by Michael Eck.

    Lady Moon - Eva Holbrook
    Lady Moon with her Weber sopranino.

    On November 27, 1970, British folk rock paragons Pentangle released their fourth album, Cruel Sister. The title track, a haunting meditation on an ancient Northumbrian murder ballad, was tinged with sitar from fingerstyle master John Renbourn and graced with a mournful, exquisitely detached vocal from London chanteuse Jacqui McShee.

    Fifty years later, on March 24, 2020, Lady Moon posted a YouTube performance of the song, funneling history down through the ages, and, directly inspired by McShee and company, through the decades.

    In the mesmerizing clip, Lady Moon begins, too, with fingerpicking, a hypnotic pattern underpinning her own equally haunting meditation. She's playing a 22"-scale mahogany-backed Weber Bitterroot octave mandolin, and when she digs in with the pick, the rendition begins to take on a certain thunder. At the midpoint, it just explodes, with notes and double stops pouring out of the instrument in a flurry worthy of Pentangle's late Bert Jansch or his brilliant contemporary Richard Thompson.

    The instrument's fifths tuning allows for wide intervals and as Moon punches the Weber it seems to travel back to the melody's dark 17th century roots before releasing itself to the current moment, when she again lilts the dream-like "fa la la" meant to balance the tale's tension.

    Lady Moon is SHEL's Eva Holbrook.

    While the popular, eclectic sibling band (its name taken from sisters Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza) is waiting out the COVID-19 lockdown, in anticipation of releasing and touring a new album, Holbrook is hunkered in her hometown of Fort Collins, Colo., enjoying a "quiet" respite from the road.

    "It's the first time I've been in one place this long in ten years," she sighs.

    She's been using the break to write and to further delve into her beloved sounds from the British Isles, roving from Child Ballads to Nic Jones to Old Blind Dogs.

    "It's a great opportunity to listen to new things, and now, in this age of Spotify, I'm really able to explore. There's just so much beautiful Irish and English folk music out there."

    She's also teaching herself nylon-string guitar, as evinced by her deft online arrangement of Paul Brady's "Mary and the Soldier."

    "I love mandolin," Holbrook says with a neophyte's glee, "but there's something almost masculine about the guitar in that sense of having a low, stable accompaniment."

    While she is finding herself fond of the vocal support provided by the six-string, she has long sung against eight strings, in standard and octave formats.

    SHEL—equally inspired by the Marx Brothers and The Beatles—is unique in many ways, but certainly the inclusion of mandolin as an integral part of its makeup is a defining factor.

    A fan of contemporaries Sierra Hull and Judah and the Lion's Brian Macdonald, Holbrook says, "I was never very excited about bluegrass as a kid, with one exception—the Strength in Numbers album that Sam Bush plays on. I grew up on that disc and it's still one of my all-time favorites. Sure, I did a few fiddle tune competitions, but that wasn't what really got me jazzed about the mandolin. Ultimately, I fell in love with how (Led Zeppelin legend) John Paul Jones plays. It became this perfect color in the music that I was drawn to. When I hear it in the work of Andy Irvine and Planxty that just sounds right to me. I'm pleased to have found a great context for it in SHEL and Lady Moon."

    SHEL - Stained (Official Music Video)

    The well-traveled Holbrook's first mandolin was a beginner Kentucky model, but it had a very special feature—a small silver key.

    "My father (songwriter Andrew Holbrook) worked at a music store, and I remember him bringing it home. There was a key for the case, and my oldest sister asked why. He said, 'Someday, when Eva is traveling and playing music, she can lock it when she goes on the airplane.' I remember just having this huge epiphany connected to that little instrument because I'd never been on an airplane."

    She got her first "real" mandolin at age 10, a Weber Beartooth that she still treasures today.

    "I've never found another that I love as well as this Beartooth. I feel like it was made for me and I'm really, really grateful to have found it. I've had it, gosh, 20 years now."

    Posted under her own name, in 2012, Holbrook's original, classically influenced air "Tuscany," played on the Beartooth, has garnered over 120,000 views on YouTube.

    "I still love it as much as I did when I first played it. The tone is warm and balanced, but it has a unique character to it that I haven't heard when I've played other mandolins."

    Holbrook views Lady Moon not only as a solo avenue of expression, but as an integral part of SHEL's growth. All of the members are pursuing individual interests.

    "We had a talk and agreed, ‘Hey, do what you're passionate about and then bring back what you've learned. We all kind of gave each other the space to do that, and Lady Moon has been one result."

    Holbrook took the current moniker from an unrealized song written when she, like her sisters, was living in Nashville—"I just kind of kept it tucked away in my heart," she says.

    Later, in a chat with her mother-in-law, Holbrook discovered the sobriquet once belonged to a genuine Latimer County eccentric—Irish orphan Catherine "Cussing Kate" Lawder—the inspiration for the radio drama "Our Gal Sunday."

    That Lady Moon sported a pistol; fleeced her British husband; hung out with the ranch hands; and hid liquor bottles in her bloomers.

    "I was imagining a really beautiful, elegant, feminine woman, like something from Tolkein," Holbrook laughs. "There's probably some aspect of my character that's like a whisky-toting little old lady, though, so I suppose it's still appropriate."

    Additional Information

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Full recording of Eva's version of "Tuscany" from the Cafe MP3 page. We put a one-minute snippet of it on social media this morning.

    1. ccravens's Avatar
      ccravens -
      Oh, the Pentangle cover is amazing!

      Jacqui would be proud!

      Thanks for this!!
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Noting the one year anniversary of this feature.
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Noting the anniversary of this feature.