Cahalen Morrison & Eli West "Our Lady of the Tall Trees" www.CahalenandEli.com
More bluegrass-inspired in approach than Darrell Scott & Tim O'Brien's forays into the duet format but reminiscent of their style, west coast musicians Cahalen Morrison and Eli West released one of the great unheralded acousticblue albums of last year.
Recorded in Colorado, this acoustic album is sure to impress as any number of elements will appeal to those who express affection for modern string music. If you've heard of and appreciated Slowdrag- Craig MCKerron, Koralee Tonack, and Paul Bergman's early Aughts foray into bluegrass-inspired acoustic music- "Our Lady of the Tall Trees" is an album you will want to seek.
Eight originals comprise the bulk of the material, and each leaves behind something of significance. The esoteric title track could be about any number of subjects- from mother to mother nature- but the instrumental interplay between clawhammer-styled banjo and mandolin and (maybe) some resophonic is simply stunning.
Recently, I've been enjoying contemporary interpretations of Child Ballads, that collection of American derivations of Scot-English songs 'caught' by Francis James Child in the late 1800s. The writing of Cahalen Morrison certainly complements this current foray as his lyrics- and their accompanying melodies- could certainly hail from a continent several centuries away.
A Lady Does Not Often Falter, as example, begins with an image as old as story:
"A lady runs across the Old Mill Moor, a dreadful song was singing
By the darkness of that now new moon, to her lover's guise was tightly clinging..."
One can hear Jean Ritchie as the song further unfolds:
"There runs she now by the 'Sconset rose, there runs she now a'bleeding
And a trail is kept by the way she moves, to her lover's touch is dire needing..."
The structure, the meter, the images...all scream traditional, the ancient. Yet, it is new, fresh, and incredible in its creation and execution.
Covers of Townes Van Zandt (Loretta) and Norman Blake (Church Street Blues) provide familiarity within a collection of continuing wonder and discovery. The duo chose to close the album with a mindful tribute to Illinois fiddler Garry Harrison; his Red Prairie Dawn bring the album to a muted, but still spritely, conclusion.
From its Mike Costello woodcut cover art, nothing within this set is simple, and yet everything is true and natural.
A taste of bluegrass, a dollop of old-time, a sprinkling of modern stringband adventurousness, and a healthy measure of fresh approaches to timeless songs, and you have the recipe that makes Cahalen Morrison and Eli West prominent within the hundreds of duets and groups making modern folk-based music.
The album times out at 45-minutes, but each time it concludes I find myself hitting repeat and settle back for another listen. There is genuine magic within "Our Lady of the Tall Trees."