Eli West is a songster, an accomplished guitarist and singer from Seattle. On "The Both," he takes simple songs and arrangements and presents them with genuine feeling.
"The Both," the product of a Kickstarter project, features West collaborating with some really fine instrumentalists. Notably, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell embraces Americana with some tasty licks ("If I could Make You My Own," "Lonesome Valley"). Bassist Ethan Jodzewicz offers his reliable and rich counterpoints throughout, along with fiddler Christian Sedelmeyer. John Reischman's mandolin work sustains a tone of solidity and soul (most especially on "The Lone Pilgrim").
The standout contributions come from female vocalists in sync with West on virtually every track. West enlists Dori Freeman, whose own solo release this year stands as a solid exemplar of modern mountain music, to add great texture. Anna Roberts Gevalt and Elizabeth Laprelle, better known simply as "Anna and Elizabeth," a duo with strong mountain roots, also add vocal layers, which enrich, rather than complicate.
West's voice is both full and easy. His vocals offer hearty emotions, and the harmonies with his female counterparts set this disc apart from others in the genre.
West conceived of this record as a tribute to his paternal and maternal grandfathers. It's a conceit that could be too sweet, but he admirably offers tribute in ways that allow the listener to share in the experience of his respect for them.
The record is a throwback in a specific way: the first six cuts are all vocals, and the last six are instrumentals. Listeners of a certain age will recall Side 1 and Side 2 of a long-forgotten LP that may have approached things the same way. It's comforting to have the stark contract in approach between the first and second halves of "The Both."
West's feeling for the music and hills from which they sprang he has created a work that will stay with the listener.