It seems like there’s quite a bit of old-time, folk, and bluegrass music coming from the western United States lately, much of it with a heavy emphasis on peaceful sounds and gentle melodies. With their new release, Our Lady of the Tall Trees, duo Cahalen Morrison and Eli West fall into this category. Morrison, who hails from the Southwest, and West, a native of the Pacific Northwest, offer listeners a smooth, melodic, bluegrass-tinged folk album.
This is the kind of music that, like Mumford and Sons, the Lumineers, and even Old Crow Medicine Show, draws fans of more popular music into bluegrass and old-time. It’s approachable and easy-going, with poetic lyrics and sparse instrumentation. However, that’s not to say it’s not good – the musicianship is solid, and Morrison and West combine for nice harmonies. Morrison’s original songs, which make up the bulk of the album’s twelve songs, fit in well with the traditional and cover songs they have also chosen to include.
Morrison’s lyrics bring to mind centuries-old poetry, using vivid images of nature and expressive words to convey their stories. A Lady Does Not Often Falter is a serene, mandolin-guided piece telling of a lady’s murder. Lines such as “Oh go run, go run your troubles down, go run down to the water / By the city fair and the ocean fierce, a lady does not often falter,” along with the song’s Celtic-influenced sound, give the song the feel of an old ballad. The album opener Stone to Sand has a similar style, particularly in the brooding lyrics, though there’s more of a progressive bluegrass feel to the instrumentation.
Heartland Sea, guided by clawhammer banjo, has more of an old-time mountain sound, as does the original instrumental Potluck Dinner/Vicco Returns from Spain. The album’s other instrumental, Garry Harrison’s Red Prairie Dawn, brings the record to a laid-back, refreshing closure. The other covers on the album are also enjoyable. Church Street Blues doesn’t stray too far from previous renditions by Tony Rice and Norman Blake, though Morrison and West’s harmonies here are notable. Townes Van Zandt’s Loretta, which bluegrass fans might recognize from Ralph Stanley II’s country-influenced version from a few years back, is one of the album’s best tracks, again due to the fine harmonizing and the light, almost cheerful treatment.
Morrison and West share vocal and instrumental duties throughout the album, with Morrison playing clawhammer banjo, mandolin, and lap slide guitar, while West takes care of guitar, bouzouki, and clawhammer banjo. Our Lady of the Tall Trees is a little heavier on the bluegrass influence than many recent folk-grass efforts, which provides for an enjoyable listening experience sure to draw in fans from multiple genres.
For more information on Cahalen Morrison and Eli West’s music, visit their website at www.cahalenandeli.com. Their new album can be purchased from their website, as well as most online music retailers.